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Bombings Kill 18 in Baghdad

Iraqi police say at least 18 people have been killed in multiple bomb blasts in the capital, including a twin bombing at a bus station, as Shi'ite pilgrims make their way toward a holy city south of Baghdad.

Authorities say two near-simultaneous car bomb blasts occurred in southwestern Baghdad's predominantly Shi'ite Bayaa neighborhood on Wednesday. The explosives had been planted inside parked cars near the station.

And two civilians, including at least one Shi'ite pilgrim, were killed and more than 11 people were wounded in two roadside bombings at opposite ends of the capital.

The pilgrims are heading toward the city of Karbala, about 80 kilometers south of Baghdad, for the annual Shi'ite religious ceremony called Arbaeen. The ceremony marks the end of the 40-day mourning period following the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in the 7th century A.D.

The United Nations special representative in Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, condemned the violence as "murderous" attacks "clearly designed to provoke sectarian tensions."

Although overall levels of violence in Iraq are down this year, Shi'ite pilgrims have frequently been targeted by bombings in the past, with most of the attacks blamed on Sunni extremist militants.

In northern Iraq, gunmen shot and killed three police officers in Mosul on Wednesday. Elsewhere in the city, officials say a suicide bomber killed an Iraqi soldier. And a local leader of a Sunni political party, Ahmed Fatihi al-Jubouri, was also killed Wednesday as he left a mosque in Mosul.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.