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Suicide attack in busy commercial area of Iraqi capital kills at least 17 people

BAGHDAD - A suicide bomber set off his explosives-laden belt on Tuesday in a mosque in busy commercial area in central Baghdad, killing at least 17 people, Iraqi officials said, as the country remains without a new government following last month's national elections.

The bomber entered the Shiite mosque in the Shorja market in downtown Baghdad as worshippers were heading inside to attend noon prayers, a police officer said. The explosion wounded 29 other people, he added.

Inside the mosque, furniture lay overturned, walls were pockmarked with shrapnel and the ground was littered with shattered glass. Outside the mosque, blast barriers were stained with blood.

Also in Baghdad, a bomb went off in an outdoor vegetable market in the eastern Shiite neighbourhood of Sadr City, killing two civilians and wounding five others, police said. And two policemen were killed and six other people wounded when a bomb hit a police patrol in the southern Dora district, another police officer said.

Three medical official confirmed causality figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but they bore the hallmarks of the Iraqi branch of al-Qaida, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The group frequently targets Shiites, who it considers heretics, and carries out co-ordinated bombings in an attempt to incite sectarian strife.

The attacks come as Iraq's Shiite-led government is struggling to contain a surge in sectarian violence unseen since the country was pushed to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007 after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. Last year violence killed 8,868 people, according to the U.N.

The attacks also come more than three weeks after Iraqis cast ballots in the country's first parliamentary election since the U.S. military withdrawal in 2011. Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's bloc emerged as the biggest winner, securing 92 seats in the 328-member parliament, but it failed to gain the majority needed to govern alone.

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Associated Press writer Murtada Faraj contributed to this report.

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