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More than 60 killed in Iraq car bombings

BAGHDAD -- A coordinated wave of car bombings tore through mostly Shia areas of Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 66 people and maiming nearly 200 as insurgents stepped up the bloodshed roiling Iraq.

The attacks in markets and other areas frequented by civilians are the latest sign of a rapid deterioration in security as sectarian tensions are exacerbated by anti-government protests, and the war in neighboring Syria grinds on.

More than 450 people have been killed across Iraq in May, most during the past two weeks in the most sustained wave of violence since U.S. troops left in December 2011.

The surge in attacks is reminiscent of the sectarian carnage that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007. April was Iraq's deadliest month since June 2008, according to a United Nations tally that put last month's death toll at more than 700.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday's bombings, but they bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida's Iraqi arm.

The day's deadliest attack happened when two bombs exploded in the eastern Habibiya area on the edge of the sprawling Shia district of Sadr City. Those blasts killed 12 and wounded 35, police said.

Twin blasts also struck an open-air market in the predominantly Shia al-Maalif area, killing six and wounding 12.

Another car bomb exploded in the busy commercial Sadoun Street in downtown Baghdad. It killed five civilians and wounded 14, police said. Among the wounded were four policemen who were at a nearby checkpoint.

Maria Fantappie, an Iraq analyst at the International Crisis Group, linked the uptick in violence to the protests and said the events at Hawija marked a turning point.

"They transformed the political crisis into a series of local conflicts in the Sunni-populated provinces," she said. She also said outright civil war between the protesters and security forces loyal to the Shia-led government is unlikely, however.

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