Car bombings in Iraq kill 18
Karbala - Twin bombings in Shi'ite holy cities targeting Iranians killed at least 18 people on Monday, 10 of them pilgrims from Iran, at the start of a ninth month of wrangling over a new government.
Police and local officials said the attacks also wounded 58 people, mostly Iranian pilgrims.
In Karbala, a suicide bomber pulled up his booby-trapped vehicle alongside a bus carrying pilgrims from neighbouring Iran then detonated his payload, police officials said.
The explosion killed 10 people, four of them Iranians, and wounded another 42, hospital officials said.
The bomber struck in the northern part of Karbala through which traffic headed to Karbala's tightly-guarded shrines passes on the way down south from Baghdad.
The second attack targeted three buses carrying Iranian pilgrims, police said. A bomb blast killed eight people, six of them Iranians, and wounded 16 others, said Khaled Jashani, a member of Najaf's provincial council.
The buses and two other vehicles were gutted, he said.
About 1 500 non-Arab pilgrims a day from predominantly Shi'ite Iran visit the faith's holiest shrines in Karbala and Najaf as well as in the capital of Iraq, a country with a Shi'ite majority.
Failure to form government
The attacks came as political rivals who have been bickering over a power-sharing agreement that has left the country without a new government for eight months met in the Kurdish city of Arbil, northern Iraq.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said last week that the surge of violence, including a hostage-taking by al-Qaeda gunmen at a Baghdad church which left 46 worshippers dead on October 31, was due to the failure to form a government.
"The attacks and explosions ... are due to the constitutional and political vacuum and the delay in the formation of the government, which gave the terrorists the opportunity to attack civilians," he said.
Monday's meeting in Arbil came a day after statements in Baghdad that the main Kurdish and Shi'ite parties had reached a power-sharing agreement.
Government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh said that under the deal, Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, would retain the post of prime minister and Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, would stay on as president.
The Sunni-backed Iraqiya party of former premier Iyad Allawi had been offered the position of parliament speaker.
Allawi's bloc won narrowly more seats than Maliki's bloc in the March 7 parliamentary election and the two men have since been at loggerheads over who should head and form a new government.
Iran has been seen as a strong supporter of Maliki, while Allawi, although himself a Shi'ite but with a secular line, has drawn support from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states.