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News Wrap: Baghdad Car Bombings Kill 33 as Sectarian Violence Escalates in Iraq

May 30, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: There was no break in the bloodshed in Iraq today. At least 33 people were killed in Baghdad, amid a surge of sectarian violence.

It’s a scene that’s becoming all too familiar again in Iraq: street crews cleaning up the carnage left by bombs.

MAN: We were sitting inside our shops when we heard a bang. We don’t know what happened, but people are saying the car went off as it was moving.

KWAME HOLMAN: Most of today’s attacks were car bombings that targeted Shiite sections of Baghdad and hardly any part of the Iraqi capital was spared. A car bombing also hit a mostly Sunni section of the city. A day earlier, 30 Iraqis died in bomb blasts in two other Baghdad neighborhoods.

MAN: Bombs went off here, one here and the other one there. Many people were hurt. Why? What is our guilt?

KWAME HOLMAN: Indeed, Iraq is facing its worst outbreak of violence since U.S. forces withdrew in December 2011. More than 500 people have been killed in May, and more than 700 died in April, the deadliest month since 2008.

The violence surged in April after security forces of Iraq’s Shiite-led government raided a Sunni protest camp north of Baghdad, killing 20. Sunni militants and al-Qaida’s Iraqi wing responded, and the killing scarcely has paused since then.

But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed this week that perpetrators of the violence will be hunted down, no matter who they are.

PRIME MINISTER NOURI AL-MALIKI, Iraq: We will chase all kinds of outlawed militias and gangs that want to instigate a wave of sectarian conflict and violence, which, as far as we are concerned, constitute a red line.

KWAME HOLMAN: Despite the tough talk, Iraq’s foreign minister acknowledges there’s real danger of returning to the dark days of a few years ago.

FOREIGN MINISTER HOSHYAR ZEBARI, Iraq: It’s the government’s responsibilities to redouble its efforts, to devise its security plans to contain this wave to prevent that from sliding into sectarian conflict or war, as I and you witnessed in 2006, 2007.

KWAME HOLMAN: Iraqis also fear the example of neighboring Syria, where sectarian divisions are helping to fuel a civil war.

In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad raised new fears today, saying his government has received new weapons from Russia. He didn’t say if they include advanced air defense missiles. Such weapons could threaten any attempt to impose a no-fly zone over Syria. Assad spoke to a Lebanese TV station that’s owned by Hezbollah, the militia that is now aiding his military.

PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD, Syria: The contracts with Russia are not connected to the crisis. We have been negotiating with them on different types of weapons for years. Russia and Syria are committed to implementing the contracts. And all that we have agreed upon with Russia will be implemented. Some of it was implemented previously, and we and the Russians are still continuing to implement the contracts.

KWAME HOLMAN: Also today, Syrian rebels urgently appealed for military and humanitarian aid in the town of Qusayr. Government forces now control most of the strategic town near the Lebanese border after a 12-day battle. The rebels say hundreds of wounded are trapped there and might die unless they get help.

Taliban militants in Pakistan have withdrawn an offer to hold peace talks with the country’s government. The announcement today came a day after the group’s number two commander, Wali-ur Rehman, as reported killed in a U.S. drone strike. The Taliban confirmed his death today. A spokesman said the Pakistani government has condoned the drone attacks, so there can be no peace negotiations.

In economic news, the Obama administration announced it’s extending its main foreclosure-prevention program known as “HAMP” for two more years, through 2015. So far, the program has helped just more than one million homeowners rework their loan terms. The administration initially estimated three to four times that number would benefit.

On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 21 points to close at 15,324. The Nasdaq rose more than 23 points to close at 3,491.

The outspoken priest and author Rev. Andrew Greeley died last night at his home in Chicago. Over decades, Greeley was widely quoted and interviewed on matters concerning the Catholic Church. He openly criticized the church’s failure to prevent and punish child sex abuse involving priests. He also voiced frustration with the primacy of the Vatican, as in this 1995 interview with the NewsHour.

REV. ANDREW GREELEY, Priest/ Author, “The Making of the Popes 1978”: And I don’t approve of the authoritarianism or the centralization of the Vatican. I think that’s a deplorable practice, and it’s hurting the church. The church does change its moral teachings as it understands the human condition better. I think most people, most ordinary folks out in the parishes are Catholics because they like being Catholic. They like the stories; they like the imagery; they like the ceremonies; they like the rituals; and particularly they like the parish community.

That’s what holds them in, and that’s why they’re not going to give it up.

KWAME HOLMAN: Greeley authored more than 50 bestselling novels, dozens of nonfiction works, and a weekly column for the Chicago Sun-Times. He was 85 years old.

Those are some of the day’s major stories — now back to Judy.