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Feb 28, 5:24 AM EST

Bombings kill 19 people in Iraq


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BAGHDAD (AP) -- A series of car bombs on Saturday ripped through a crowded marketplace and a Shiite militia's checkpoint, killing a total of 19 people in separate attacks north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, officials said, as the country's prime minister vowed to punish those who smashed ancient artifacts in a northern city.

Police said the first attack took place Saturday morning when a car bomb exploded near a busy market in the town of Balad Ruz. Minutes later, a second car bomb went off, targeting people who gathered to inspect the site of the first blast.

Balad Ruz is 70 kilometers (45 miles) northeast of Baghdad.

Police and hospital officials said 11 people were killed and 50 wounded.

Later on, a suicide bomber drove his explosive-laden car into a checkpoint manned by Shiite militiamen who are fighting Islamic State militants near the city of Samarra, killing eight Shite fighters and wounding 15 others.

Samarra and the surrounding areas have been under constant attacks by the Islamic State group, which captured large swaths of western and northern Iraq last summer.

Police said clashes erupted between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State militants following the attack in areas around Samarra, 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Nobody immediately claimed responsibly for the attacks. Iraq sees near-daily attacks that are often claimed by the Islamic State group, which seized about a third of the country last year. Iraqi security forces backed by Shiite militiamen have been struggling to retake areas lost to the group.

Meanwhile in Baghdad, Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi vowed to track down and punish those who were behind the smashing of rare ancient artifacts in the northern city of Mosul.

On Thursday, the Islamic State group released a video purportedly showing militants using sledgehammers to smash the statues, describing them as idols that must be removed. The act brought global condemnation.

The destructions are part of a campaign by the extremists, who have destroyed a number of shrines - including Muslim holy sites - in order to eliminate what they view as heresy. They are also believed to have sold ancient artifacts on the black market to finance their bloody campaign across the region.

"Those barbaric, criminal terrorists are trying to destroy the heritage of the mankind and Iraq's civilization. We will chase them in order to make them pay for every drop of blood shed in Iraq and for the destruction of Iraq's civilization," said al-Abadi during a celebration held in the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad on Saturday.

He said that Islamic State militants destroyed some of the Mosul artifacts, and are smuggling others.

Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, and the surrounding Nineveh province fell to the militants as Iraqi security forces melted away during the Islamic State group's summer blitz.

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