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3 blasts kill 8 in central Iraq

Three bombs planted on motorcycles went off in quick succession near a market and police station in central Iraqi town Friday, killing at least eight people and wounding dozens more, officials said.

The blasts in Balad, located some 80 kilometers (50) miles north of Baghdad, were the latest in a wave of bombings and shootings has made June one of the deadliest months in Iraq since the last U.S. troops pulled out of the country in December.

Police said the bombs, which were hidden on motorbikes and went off within minutes of each other, also wounded at least 38 people.

"We were expecting this, because the terrorists want to ignite sedition among the Iraqi people," said Shiite cleric Murtada Faraj, 49, who was at Balad hospital caring for his three wounded nephews. Faraj said he had been about to leave the market when the explosions hit.

"Our town is Shiite, but it is surrounded by areas controlled by terrorists," he said.

Balad is a predominantly Shiite town in the majority Sunni province of Salahuddin. Shiites are a prime target of al-Qaida's offshoot in Iraq, which claimed responsibility earlier this month for attacks that killed 72 Shiite pilgrims headed to an annual religious ceremony in Baghdad.

Earlier Friday, gunmen in eastern Diyala province fatally shot four members of a local Sunni security militia know as Awakening Councils, which joined forces with the U.S. military to fight al-Qaida at the height of the insurgency. They are another frequent target for insurgents.

At least 220 people have been killed in June in a surge of bloodshed that officials and experts fear is part of insurgents' efforts to reignite widespread violence along sectarian lines.

While violence is nowhere as widespread as it was just five years ago, bombings and shootings still happen nearly every day.

Local security and hospital officials in Balad confirmed the casualty toll. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

Qutaiba al-Jubouri, a lawmaker from Salahuddin province, said that insurgents "do not want stability" in Balad.

"We demand the government to send more troops and security members in order to secure this town," he added.

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Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Lara Jakes contributed to this report.