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Explosions kill 12 and wound 55 in Iraqi city of Kut

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Two bombs exploded in the usually quiet southern city of Kut in Iraq’s Wasit province on Tuesday, killing 12 people and wounding 55, a security source said.

A roadside bomb and then a car bomb were detonated in a busy commercial area near a gold market in the town center. Many of the casualties from the blasts, which hit an area with a bus station, restaurants and barber shops, were women and children.

The governor of Wasit province, Latif Hamid al-Turfah, said the death toll stood at 2, with 63 wounded.

While violence in Iraq has fallen in the last three years, bombings are still a daily occurrence, with militants believed to be exploiting a political vacuum in the country nearly five months after an inconclusive general election.

“The remainder of the Baathists and al Qaeda are trying to disrupt the stability of cities which haven’t had any security disruptions before,” Khalil Ghafouri, head of the security committee of Wasit’s provincial council, told Reuters.

Insurgents are also targeting Iraqi military and police.

Earlier on Tuesday, gunmen linked to al Qaeda overran a security checkpoint in the capital Baghdad, killing five policemen, an Interior Ministry source said.

The insurgents used silenced weapons to attack the checkpoint after dawn and raised the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq, an al Qaeda affiliate, above it after the assault.

The attack took place in the Mansour district just after three mortar rounds hit the area, the source said. No one was hurt by the barrage.

A Baghdad military commander said the officers were killed by a grenade attack.

Two other policemen were killed on Tuesday while trying to defuse two bombs in eastern Baghdad’s Sadr City district, and a roadside bomb that went off near an army patrol in Sadr City killed one Iraqi soldier and wounded six people, three of them soldiers.

Nearly 400 civilians were killed in bombings and other attacks in July, almost double the June toll, Iraqi authorities say.

Tens of thousands of people were killed during the height of Iraq’s sectarian slaughter in 2006-07.

Insurgents often use silenced guns in attacks on security posts to avoid alerting troops or police at nearby checkpoints and to allow them to escape.

Iraq has remained in a political void since its March 7 parliamentary election and Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish political factions have yet to sort out a coalition government.

Some politicians say it could be mid-September or later by the time Iraq has a new government.

“I believe that terrorists are trying to prove their claim that they can hit the stable southern regions,” said Ibrahim Mohammed, a lecturer at the University of Kut and a former politician.

“Kut is not the target. The target is to prove that they can reach those stable regions.”

Reporting by Aref Mohammed in Basra; Writing by Jim Loney and Serena Chaudhry; editing by Tim Pearce