| A soldier holds the headband of a civilian who was killed in a car bomb explosion in Baghdad's northern district of Adhamiya. (AFP)
Baghdad, April 29 (Reuters): A string of car bombs killed at least 24 people in Iraq today, ramming home to the new government in Baghdad that insurgents are as strong as ever.
Nine car bombs targeted Iraqi security forces in Baghdad and the nearby town of Madaen, a bloody display of capabilities one day after a new government was formed. The top US general said this week the rebels were as strong as they were a year ago.
Eighty-nine people, mostly police and National Guardsmen, were also wounded, underscoring the security challenge facing Iraq's new leaders after three months of post-election wrangling that appears to have emboldened the insurgency.
Hours after four bombs killed at least 13 people in the Aadhamiya district of the capital, insurgents struck in the New Baghdad area, killing two people with the increasingly common tactic of following one strike with another. After a first car bomb hit a National Guard convoy, police who had gathered at the scene were struck by a second car bomb.
In a pattern of violence that has raised concerns over sectarian tensions, insurgents also struck in the town of Madaen, where police say tit-for-tat kidnappings and killings between Shias and Sunnis have been on the increase.
Three car bombings killed at least nine Iraqi soldiers and wounded 35 in attacks near a checkpoint, at a hospital and at the post office in the town south of Baghdad, police said.
Zarqawi's group claimed responsibility for the Madaen violence. 'Your brothers from the martyrs' brigades ... attacked four posts of the apostate pagan guards in Madaen,' Al Qaida Organisation for Holy War in Iraq said, adding that four suicide bombers had carried out the attacks.
In the relatively tranquil Kurdish city of Arbil, insurgents blew up a bomb disposal expert as he tried to defuse a roadside bomb, police said. The blast also killed a civilian.
Although Iraq's first democratically elected government in more than 50 years was a relief for Iraqis who endured three decades of iron-fisted rule under Saddam Hussein, they want their new leaders to quickly deliver on promises of stability.
But that will not be easy. Washington's military commander said this week that insurgents are just as capable as they were one year ago and were mounting up to 60 attacks a day.
The 275-seat parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of a cabinet proposed by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a devout Shia, ending a power vacuum that had served to dissipate much of the optimism created by the January 30 election.
But Jaafari failed to name permanent ministers to five key portfolios, including oil and defence, and a top Sunni official criticised the new government as sectarian. Two deputy prime minister posts are also left vacant in the cabinet.
Iraq's new leaders said the government reflected its ethnic and sectarian diversity, a theme politicians frequently stressed in a country where Shias and Kurds are the new powers and Sunnis, who dominated under Saddam, have been sidelined.
Iraqi officials accuse the Sunni Zarqawi of mounting suicide bombings designed to spark civil war.
Officials believe capturing Zarqawi, who has a $25 million US bounty on his head, would weaken the insurgency. But he remains elusive, despite frequent US and Iraqi government claims that forces have been hot on his trail.