Iraq: Bomb explosions cause ethnic and religious tensions

A bomb exploded Monday on the western outskirts of &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Karbala, causing no casualties, Iraqi police said, one day after car bombs in Karbala and in its sister shrine city of Najaf killed 66 people.

"A bomb exploded at a spot where the police normally set up checkpoints not far from a hotel," said police spokesman Rahman Meshawi, writes the Turkish Press.

According to the Boston Globe, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said the mainly Sunni Muslim insurgents, blamed for Sunday's bloody attacks, want to "create ethnic and religious tensions, problems and conflicts ... to destroy the unity of this country."

"These attacks are designed to stop the political process from taking place in &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Iraq," Allawi told reporters. He added that his administration would not be deterred despite expecting more strikes before key Jan. 30 parliamentary elections the first free vote in Iraq since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958.

In a new attack in Karbala on Monday, a bomb exploded at a police checkpoint, damaging nearby but inflicting no casualties. Police said they arrested the attacker.

Shiite officials and clerics blamed Sunnis for Sunday's bombings, which caused the worst carnage in Iraq since July. The strikes appeared designed to cause heavy casualties and provoke reprisals by Shiites against Sunnis.

U.S. President George W. Bush agreed Monday that violence remains a significant problem in Iraq and said U.S.-trained Iraqi troops are not ready to take over security duties. He also cautioned that the election is only the beginning of a long process towards democracy. "I certainly don't expect the process to be trouble-free," he told a Washington news conference.

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