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Bomb blasts in Najaf kill 15

Fifteen people were killed and 25 wounded as three bombs exploded simultaneously in the Shiite city of Najaf, some 150 km South Baghdad. The attack was the worst to hit Iraq in 2010.

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AFP - Fifteen people were killed and 25 wounded on Thursday when three bombs exploded simultaneously in the Shiite Muslim shrine city of Najaf, the worst attack to hit Iraq this year, officials said.

A car bomb exploded near a mosque and two other bombs blew up in a retail market in the city, 150 kilometres (90 miles) south of Baghdad, according to a security official.

"At 5:30 pm (1430 GMT), three bombs exploded at the same time close to a large market at Jumla, targeting the innocent, passers-by and traders," a local government official said. "The victims are being transported to hospital."

An interior ministry official in the capital gave the casualty toll of 15 dead and 25 wounded.

Najaf is home to the mausoleum of Imam Ali, the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Mohammed, and attracts Shiites from around the world, especially neighbouring Iran.

An AFP correspondent in the city said Iraqi security forces deployed in large numbers following the bombings, with routes into the city sealed off.

While attacks in Iraq remain common, especially in Baghdad and the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, violence in Najaf has become rare.

The last major attack in Najaf dates back to February 2007 when a suicide car bomber struck an Iraqi police checkpoint, killing 13 people and wounding dozens more.

Violence in Iraq dropped dramatically in 2009 to its lowest level since the US-led invasion of 2003, figures showed on January 1, but a monitoring group warned that security gains were levelling off.

According to an AFP tally of statistics released by the defence, interior and health ministries, a total of 2,800 civilians were killed by violence last year, less than half of 2008's toll of 5,886.

The toll was markedly lower, however, than one compiled by Iraq Body Count (IBC), an independent Britain-based group, which put the number of civilians dead in 2009 at 4,497.

Despite the disparity, IBC's toll was also dramatically lower than its 2008 figures, it said in its annual report.

IBC noted that while there had been "significant improvements" in security in 2009, "such violence still afflicts Iraq's population more than any other."

And the second half of 2009 saw around the same number of civilian deaths as the first, which IBC warned "may indicate that the situation is no longer improving."

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has promoted himself as having improved security across Iraq and aims to retain his post after a general election due on March 7.

 

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