Twenty people killed in twin car bombings in Iraq

At least 20 people were killed and 100 wounded in twin suicide car bombing attacks which occurred within 20 minutes of each other in the northern city of Kirkuk on Monday, were targeting a Kurdish political office and ripping through an outdoor market, police said.

The attacks began around noon when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-packed vehicle near the concrete blast walls of the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Soon after, the second bomber attacked the Haseer market, 700 meters (yards) away, said Kirkuk police Brig. Sarhat Qadir.

The Haseer market - an outdoor souq with stalls of vegetable and fruit sellers - is frequented by Kurds in Kirkuk, a city where tensions are high between the Kurdish and Arab populations. The blast demolished five stalls and 10 cars, and at least 20 people were killed and around 100 wounded in both attacks, said Qadir.

In Baghdad, a string of attacks Monday morning killed at least nine people. In the deadliest, a roadside bomb exploded as an Iraqi army patrol passed in the Boub al-Sham area on the city's northeast outskirts, killing five soldiers and wounding nine others, an army officer said.

U.S. troops launched a new offensive south of Baghdad against insurgents Monday, aiming to cut off another staging ground for attacks on the capital - the latest around Baghdad as part of the "surge" of 28,000 new American troops sent to Iraq this year. For the past month, U.S. and Iraqi forces have been waging offensives in the region southeast of Baghdad and in the city of Baqouba, 60 kilometers (35 miles) to the northeast.

At the same time, the U.S. military has been carrying out a stepped-up security sweep in Baghdad, hoping to bring calm to the capital and boost the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The U.S military said in a statement that the new sweep "aimed at preventing the movement of weapons, munitions and insurgents into Baghdad. It did not give an exact location of the offensive, but in recent days U.S. commanders have said they plan new operations to cut off an insurgent supply route southwest of the city, running from western Anbar province.

Violence appears to have eased in Baghdad in recent weeks - but attacks, including deadly car bombs, remain a daily occurrence.

For the second day in a row, a car bomb hit the central district of Karradah on Monday, explosing near Masbah Square, killing one person, wounding three others and leaving nearby shops burned, a police official said. On Sunday, a car bomb went off about a kilometer (half mile) away, killing 10 people.

Also, mortar shells hit a residential area in Abu Dhsir, a south Baghdad Shiite enclave surrounded by Sunni neighborhood. The attack killed three civilians and wounded six others, said another police official.

On Sunday, 22 bullet-riddled bodies were found dumped invarious locations of Baghdad, apparently the latest victims of sectarian violence, police said. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the reports.

Meanwhile, with parliament scheduled to convene Monday, Iraqi politicians were trying to end a pair of boycotts of the legislature that are holding up work on crucial reforms sought by Washington

The top Sunni party, the Iraqi Accordance Party has refused to attend parliament to protest the removal of the Sunni speaker of parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani.The Shiite-dominated parliament voted June 11 to remove al-Mashhadani because of erratic behavior and comments that frequently embarrassed al-Maliki's government.

Sunnis also want the government to set aside an arrest warrant against the Sunni culture minister, accused of ordering an assassination attempt against a fellow Sunni legislator.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, the Accordance Front leader, met Sunday with al-Maliki to discuss the Sunni boycott. After the meeting, al-Dulaimi's spokesman, Muhannad al-Issawi, said that the boycott would continue and if the speaker were replaced, the decision should be made by the Sunnis and "not imposed" by Shiites and Kurds.

But al-Dulaimi was more optimistic about a settlement that would allow the Sunnis to return.

"Things are, God willing, on their way to be resolved," al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press. "The pending issue of al-Mashhadani and that of the minister of culture will be solved by the end of the week, and things will go back to their normal course."

Hassan al-Suneid, a Shiite lawmaker close to al-Maliki, also said a deal was near under which al-Mashhadani could return to his post briefly, then permitted to retire.

Meanwhile, a member of the Shiite Sadr bloc said his faction would meet Monday with parliament leaders to discuss their own boycott, launched to protest delays in rebuilding a Shiite shrine in Samarra that was damaged by a bomb in February 2006.

"We will end our boycott when our conditions are accepted," lawmaker Naser al-Saidi told the U.S.-funded Alhurra television.

Those conditions include a plan to rebuild the shrine and secure the road from Baghdad to Samarra, which passes through Sunni insurgent areas.

The absence of the two major blocs has delayed work on such key benchmark legislation as the oil bill, constitutional reform, scheduling local elections and restoring many former Saddam Hussein loyalists to government jobs.

Those are among the 18 benchmarks which Washington uses to measure progress toward national reconciliation. A White House report last week found that Iraqis had made only limited progress, fueling calls for a U.S. troop withdrawal.