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Death toll in Iraq tops 100 as fugitive VP gets death sentence

Updated at 5 p.m. ET:  Six car bombs hit mainly Shiite Baghdad neighborhoods Sunday evening, killing 51 people, police said, capping a day when earlier attacks killed 58 people and fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi was sentenced to death on murder charges.

"I heard women screaming, I saw people running in all directions, chairs scattered in the street. My windows were blown out, my mother and two kids were injured too," said Alla Majid, still shaking after a blast in Baghdad's Sadr City. 

Hashemi, a Sunni, fled to Turkey after the authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in December, a move that threatened to collapse a fragile power-sharing deal among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs at a time when U.S. troops were pulling out.

Hashemi had accused Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, of orchestrating a crackdown on Sunni opponents and refused to appear in a court he dismissed as biased.

He and his son-in-law were both found guilty in absentia of murdering a female lawyer and security official, a judiciary spokesman said.

"This is a political decision. All our respect to the Iraqi judicial system, but this was political," said lawmaker Jaber al-Jaberi, a member of Hashemi's Iraqiya party.

Hashemi's lawyer said there would be no appeal because the trial was conducted in absentia.

Since the last U.S. troops left, Maliki's government has been politically deadlocked and insurgents continue to strike, hoping to ignite the kind of sectarian tensions that drove Iraq close to civil war in 2006-2007.

Hours before the sentencing was announced, a wave of bombings and shootings killed at least 58 people across the country from the northern city of Kirkuk to southern Nassiriya where a car bomb hit a French consular office.

The most serious of the earlier bombings happened near the city of Amara, 185 miles south of the capital, when two car bombs exploded outside a Shiite shrine and a market place, killing at least 16 people, officials said.

With its main hospital overflowing with the injured, mosques in Amara used prayer loudspeakers to call for blood donations.

More were killed in bombings in the towns of Kirkuk, Baquba, Samarra, Basra and Tuz Khurmato, and there was also a strike on an army base and a bombing of security guard recruits for the Iraqi North Oil Company.

Stringer / Iraq / Reuters

Security personnel inspect the site of a bomb attack in Kirkuk, 155 miles north of Baghdad, on Sunday.

The car bomb outside the building housing the French consular office in Nassiriya, 185 miles south of Baghdad, killed a police guard and wounded four, authorities said. The consul, an Iraqi citizen, was not at the office.

After the fall of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein and the rise to power of Iraq's Shiite majority, many Iraqi Sunnis feel they have been sidelined.

Sunni politicians say Maliki is failing to live up to agreements to share government power among the parties, a charge his backers dismiss by pointing to Sunnis in key posts.

When the Hashemi charges were announced at the end of last year, his Iraqiya party called for a boycott of parliament and the cabinet. But the party has since splintered further.

Related: US auditors say $200m wasted on Iraqi police training

Heightened political tension is often accompanied by a surge in violence as Sunni Islamist insurgents try to capitalize on instability to strike at the government, local security forces and Shi'ite religious targets.

Violence in Iraq has eased since the dark days of sectarian slaughter after the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam. But insurgents are still carrying out at least one major coordinated attack a month.

Infighting in the religiously mixed government, and a resurgence of a local al Qaeda wing, are raising fears of a return to wider violence, especially as Iraq is struggling to contain spillover from Syria's crisis over the border.

Iraq's local al-Qaida affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq, has claimed responsibility for major attacks on security forces and Shiite neighborhoods. Former members of Saddam's outlawed Baathist party and other Sunni Islamist groups are also fighting the government.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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