Apr 20, 2:05 PM EDT

Attacks kill at least 18 people in Iraq


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BAGHDAD (AP) -- A series of attacks, including a coordinated assault on a private Shiite college in Baghdad, killed at least 18 people and wounded nearly 50 in Iraq on Sunday, officials said.

Less than two weeks ahead of parliamentary elections, Iraq is struggling to keep a lid on a surge in sectarian violence that has sent bloodshed soaring to levels not seen since the country was pushed to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007.

Sunday's deadliest attack took place outside the southern city of Samawah, where two car bombs exploded simultaneously in a commercial area, killing seven civilians and wounding 17, police said. The Shiite city is located 370 kilometers (230 miles) southeast of Baghdad.

The dramatic assault on the college happened in Baghdad's eastern neighborhood of Ur. A suicide bomber with an explosives belt attacked the main gate of the college as three militants attacked the back gate, police said. The militants killed four policemen and one teacher, and wounded another 18 people. Security forces killed all of the attackers.

In a third attack, a car bomb in a commercial area in the town of Iskandariyah south of Baghdad killed three civilians and wounded 12 others, police said. Later that night, police said a bomb exploded in a busy street in the village of al-Rashed, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Baghdad, killing three people and wounding six.

Medical officials confirmed causality figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release the information.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the bombings, but Sunni insurgent groups have stepped up attacks across the country since the Shiite-led government cracked down on a Sunni protest movement last year. Violence outside the capital, in particular, has increased as militants look to undermine the Shiite-led government ahead of the parliamentary election on April 30.

More than 9,000 candidates will vie for 328 seats in parliament, but there will be no balloting in parts of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, which is engulfed in clashes between security forces and al-Qaida-inspired militants. The militants have seized and are continuing to hold parts of the provincial capital, Ramadi, and nearly all of the nearby city of Fallujah.

Last year, Iraq weathered its deadliest bout of violence since it pulled back from the brink of civil war in 2008. United Nations figures show that violence killed 8,868 people in 2012.

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