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Apr 21, 7:52 AM EDT

Suicide bombings, attacks in Iraq kill 19 people


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BAGHDAD (AP) -- Suicide bombings and other attacks across Iraq killed at least 19 people and wounded 36 on Monday, officials said, the latest in an uptick in violence as the country counts down to crucial parliament elections later this month.

In one suicide attack, the bomber drove his explosives-laden car into a police checkpoint in the town of Suwayrah, killing 12 people - five policemen and seven civilians. A police officer said the explosion in Suwayrah, located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Baghdad, also wounded 19 people.

In the nearby town of Madain, about 20 kilometers (14 miles) southeast of Baghdad, another suicide car bomber struck an army checkpoint, killing three soldiers and two civilians, a second police officer said. Twelve other people were wounded in that attack, he said.

An Iraqi soldier was killed and three were wounded when a roadside bomb struck their patrol in the northern town of Mishahda, 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Baghdad, a police officer said. And in the town of Latifiyah, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Baghdad, gunmen in speeding car went on a shooting spree, killing one civilian and wounding two, a police officer said.

Four medical officials confirmed the causality figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Since last year, Iraq has been experiencing a surge in violence to levels unseen since 2008. The recent uptick has become the Shiite-led government's most serious challenge as the nation prepares to hold the national parliamentary elections on April 30 - the first voting in Iraq since the U.S. army withdrawal in 2011.

On Sunday, a series of attacks across Iraq killed at least 18 people and wounded nearly 50. The attacks included a coordinated assault on a private Shiite college in Baghdad in which a suicide bomber with an explosives belt attacked the main gate while three militants attacked the back gate of the college. Four policemen and one teacher were killed and 18 other people were wounded.

Hours after the attack, an al-Qaida spin-off group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed responsibility for the attack, accusing the college's professors of teaching students to "curse" the Prophet Muhammad and training them to "fight" the Sunnis in Iraq and Syria.

The authenticity of the statement could not be independently verified, but its style was consistent with previous statements.

The U.N. Special Representative in Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, described the college assault as a "vicious and cowardly attack on innocent civilians."

"This is yet another example of sectarian-based violence that the people of this country need to fight in order to bring this country to tranquility," Mladenov said in a statement. "The target has been selected to incite sectarian hatred, with utter disregard for human life and religious values," he added.

According to the United Nations, 8,868 people were killed in Iraq last year - the country's highest death toll since a peak of sectarian bloodletting in 2007.

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Associated Press writer Murtada Faraj contributed to this report.

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