Three vehicle bombs killed 19 people and wounded scores more in Iraq yesterday, stirring sectarian anger in the run-up to a national unity conference.
A car bomb which detonated in a busy market near the al-Kamaliyah mosque in a mainly Shiite district of east Baghdad killed at least 10 civilians and wounded another 26, a security official said.
The bodies of the victims lay scattered around the street amid pools of blood and the burning wreckage of at least two cars and a row of market stalls set up by a nearby bus station.
In another attack, two truck bombs smashed into a base of Iraq's oil infrastructure protection force, killing nine soldiers and wounding 10, an officer on the scene said, adding three civilians were also injured.
One after another, the trucks ploughed into the military base near the town of Riyadh, 50km from the oil center of Kirkuk and along the pipelines carrying crude to the massive Baiji refinery.
The Strategic Infrastructure Brigade, an army unit formed out of local tribesmen, is tasked with protecting the northern oil fields and the hundreds of kilometers of pipeline snaking across the flat plains of northern Iraq.
The morning attacks came a day after two suicide bombers blew their cars up amid a crowd of day laborers, mostly Shiites, killing 70 and wounding more than 200 in Baghdad.
The surge in sectarian bloodshed came just days ahead of a national reconciliation conference organized by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in what might be his last chance to curb the violence.
Saturday's talks will aim to bring the leaders of Iraq's warring sects and political factions under one roof to allow them to solve their differences without recourse to the rival militias backing almost every party.
The conference will be boycotted by a Sunni religious body, the Muslim Scholars' Association, which is accused of having links with some of the insurgent groups fighting the US-backed government.
Kurdish lawmaker Mahmud Othman, a member of Maliki's national reconciliation committee, said there would be no point in inviting the association.
"The continuous refusal of the association to the political process and their announcement that they will not take part in this process make it unnecessary to extend an invitation," he said.
Maliki, who is under tremendous pressure from within his own ruling Shiite coalition, has so far failed to bring security to Iraq and especially Baghdad, and the sectarian war now threatens to turn into a regional conflict.
On Tuesday, the White House said that US President George W. Bush will unveil a new Iraq strategy early next year that will aim to tackle the sectarian bloodletting and facilitate an eventual troop withdrawal.
US public support for the war has collapsed -- with one poll showing that only 15 percent of Americans think it can be won.
The president is in consultations with US diplomats and military officials as well as senior Iraqi government figures, but has already stepped back from reports that he would be ready to showcase his new approach by Christmas.
"That is not going to happen until the new year. We do not know when, so I can't give a date," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.
Bush has been holding meetings with Iraqi leaders and on Tuesday held talks with the highest-ranking Sunni Arab, Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.
"Our objective is to help the Iraqi government deal with the extremists and killers, and support the vast majority of Iraqis who are reasonable people who want peace," he said.
"There is a chance, and I can assure you there is a great and real chance to get out of this present dilemma. It is a hard time that the Iraqis face in time being, but there is a light in the corridor," Hashemi said.
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