By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post staff writer
Tuesday, August 3, 2010; 4:34 PM
BAGHDAD -- A bombing at an outdoor market in the southern city of Kut and a spate of attacks around the Iraqi capital killed at least 17 people Tuesday in the latest signs of deteriorating security amid a deepening political crisis.
The bombing in Kut, a predominantly Shiite city south of Baghdad, left at least 10 people dead and rattled nerves among residents in a community that has been among the safest in Iraq in recent years.
Wasit province governor Lateef al-Turfaa, who was in a meeting near the site of the explosion, said extremists are exploiting a period of political uncertainty.
"It is a suitable time for those who want to destroy the country and create insecurity," he said in a phone interview.
Earlier in the day, gunmen armed with pistols with silencers ambushed Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint in western Baghdad, killing five, Iraqi police officials said. The attack in the Mansour neighborhood marked the second time in recent days that militants have raised the flag of al-Qaeda in Iraq after an ambush on Iraqi security forces.
The Islamic State of Iraq, which serves as a front for al-Qaeda in Iraq, issued a claim of responsibility Tuesday for a similar but deadlier attack carried out Thursday in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah.
The statement said the organization's fighters had demonstrated the "crumbling security plan of the Green Zone government" with the rare, brazen attack, according to a translation by the Site Intelligence Group, which tracks Web postings of extremist organizations.
Meanwhile, a traffic police officer was killed Tuesday in a roadside bombing in central Baghdad and a soldier was killed in a bombing in Sadr City in eastern Baghdad, Iraqi army officials said.
Three rockets fired on the Green Zone on Tuesday afternoon left no casualties, authorities said.
The bloodshed comes amid an impasse over the formation of the new Iraqi government, a stalemate that prompted the White House to dispatch a team to Baghdad to prod the Iraqis to act more quickly.
Parliament members elected March 7 have failed to agree on who should lead the nation. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki this week blamed the stalemate on the interference of neighboring countries.
"Many of the politicians have acquiesced to become extensions of regional and external agendas," Maliki said in an interview with state-owned al-Iraqiya channel. He was referring to Sunni Arab states that are presumed to be backing his main challenger. "The victim here is Iraq."
Maliki's slate won 89 seats in the new parliament, two fewer than rival Ayad Allawi. Maliki and Allawi are both Shiite Muslims, but Sunni support contributed to the strong showing by Allawi's coalition.
Maliki's political standing appeared to weaken over the weekend when leaders from another Shiite political bloc announced they were suspending negotiations with the prime minister's slate because they didn't want him to have a second term in office.
Maliki, sounding at times defensive in the interview, said critics want to weaken the position of the premier.
"They want a weak prime minister, not a strong one," he said. "But if you don't have a strong prime minister the country will start to disintegrate and the warlords will reappear."
Special correspondents Jinan Hussein and K.I. Ibrahim contributed to this report.