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Blasts kill at least 76 on deadly day in Iraq

BAGHDAD -- Bombs struck Sunni areas in Baghdad and surrounding areas yesterday, killing at least 76 people in the deadliest day in Iraq in more than eight months, officials said.

The spike in violence has raised fears the country could be on the path to a new round of sectarian bloodshed.

The attacks in Baghdad and surrounding areas pushed the three-day Iraqi death toll to 130, including Shias at bus stops and outdoor markets in scenes reminiscent of the retaliatory attacks between the Islamic sects that pushed the country to the brink of civil war in 2006-07.

Tensions have been intensifying since Sunnis began protesting what they say is mistreatment at the hands of the Shia-led government. The protests, which began in December, have largely been peaceful, but the number of attacks rose sharply after a deadly security crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in the country's north on April 23.

Majority Shias control the levers of power in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. Wishing to rebuild the nation rather than revert to open warfare, they have largely restrained their militias over the past five years as Sunni extremist groups such as al-Qaida have targeted them with occasional large-scale attacks. An increase in attacks against Sunni mosques has fed concerns about a return to retaliatory warfare.

The deadliest blast yesterday struck worshippers leaving the main Sunni mosque in Baqouba, a former Sunni insurgent stronghold 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Another explosion went off shortly afterward as people gathered to help the wounded, leaving at least 41 dead and 56 wounded, according to police and hospital officials. Bloodied bodies were strewn across the road outside the mosque.

Later, a roadside bomb exploded during a Sunni funeral procession in Madain, about 12 miles south of Baghdad, killing eight mourners and wounding 11, police said. Another explosion struck a cafe in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, killing two people and wounding nine, according to police and hospital officials.

In Baghdad, a bomb exploded near a shopping center during evening rush hour in the mainly Sunni neighborhood of Amariyah, killing 21 people and wounding 32. That was followed by another bomb in a commercial district in Dora, another Sunni neighborhood, that killed four people and wounded 22, according to officials.

The attacks on Sunnis came after two days of car bombs targeting Shia areas in Baghdad and other attacks that left 21 people dead on Thursday and 33 on Wednesday.

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