Fifty-nine people killed in Iraq bombings

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BAGHDAD, Sep 26 (Reuters) Bomb attacks killed 59 people and wounded more than 120 across Iraq today when suspected al Qaeda militants stepped up a campaign of violence coinciding with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In a mainly Shi'ite district of southwest Baghdad, twin car bombs killed 32 people in one of the biggest attacks to hit the Iraqi capital in weeks.

The bombs detonated shortly before dusk when most people were preparing for the evening meal which ends a daylong fast during Ramadan.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Iraq had made some progress on security but added: ''We have a long way to achieve our goals for a secure, stable and prosperous Iraq.'' Maliki said this month a security plan in Baghdad, backed by thousands of extra US troops, had sharply reduced levels of violence in the Iraqi capital.

In northern Iraq a suicide bomber killed 10 people today and wounded nine when he struck at the home of a tribal leader opposed to al Qaeda near the town of Sinjar. The bomber's target, Sheikh Kanan al-Juhaimur, was wounded.

At the start of Ramadan two weeks ago Sunni Islamist al Qaeda vowed to escalate attacks and specifically said it would target tribal leaders cooperating with security forces.

''There has indeed been an increase in violence in the last few days, largely in areas in which al Qaeda in Iraq operates and with al Qaeda in Iraq signatures,'' US military spokesman Major-General Kevin Bergner said.

''This was an increase that was actually expected some weeks ago given past upturns in violence during Ramadan,'' he told a news conference. The number of attacks was down from levels last year and roughly in line with 2005.

US President George W Bush has approved plans to withdraw around 20,000 combat troops from Iraq by July, saying the move was justified by improved security in Baghdad and the western province of Anbar.

The main Anbar sheikh working with US forces, Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, was killed two weeks ago in a bombing claimed by al Qaeda. The group said others who cooperated with the United States would share Abu Risha's fate.

MOSUL BLASTS Police said three car bombs in Mosul and three others in northern Iraq killed 13 people and wounded more than 50.

In the south, a roadside bomb outside a Sunni mosque in the town of Abi Khasib, five miles (8 km) south of Basra, killed four people, police and a Sunni political party said.

Bergner displayed explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) which he said were discovered by Iraqi and US soldiers yesterday and which he said were being stored by a militant group with links to Iran.

EFPs are a particularly deadly armour-piercing bomb which the United States says Iran is supplying to Shi'ite militias in Iraq to attack American troops -- a charge denied by Tehran.

''This weapons cache was supporting criminals in the Diwaniya area associated with groups that have relied in the past on support from Iranian sources,'' Bergner said.

Washington, already at odds with Tehran over Iran's nuclear programme, has repeatedly accused Iran of arming Shi'ite militias to attack US troops in Iraq.

Last week American soldiers arrested an Iranian man they accused of smuggling roadside bombs into Iraq and training foreign fighters. The US military said he was a member of the Qods Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Iranian and Iraqi officials said the man was a member of a trade delegation.

Reuters KK VP0115

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