A string of deadly car bombings has hit commercial areas in Baghdad, killing at least 17 people, hours after American lawmakers criticised the Iraqi government for its lack of progress on political reconciliation.

Police say all nine of Thursday's bombs were in parked cars.

Four of the neighbourhoods hit are populated mostly by Iraq's Shia majority, while the other two were in the commercial Karrada district of central Baghdad. Three of the blasts targeted market areas.

They are all part of a wave of violence across the country in February that has left 112 civilians dead in just the first four days.

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The bombings come a day after a spate of attacks in the Iraqi capital left 33 people dead, including 25 who were killed in a series of blasts near the heavily-fortified Green Zone, which is home to parliament, the prime minister's office and the US and British embassies.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Sunni fighter groups - including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a powerful jihadist outfit - have in the past taken credit for bombing campaigns in the capital targeting Shia Muslims.

Maliki criticised

Diplomats and analysts have called for the Shia-led government to do more to reach out to disaffected Sunnis, but with parliamentary elections looming in April, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has taken a hard line.

The US House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Ed Royce, said on Wednesday that Maliki's failure to do more to address Sunni grievances had allowed ISIL to exploit the minority community's "alienation" to sharply step up its attacks.

"As head of state, while he may not be up to it, Maliki must take steps to lead Iraq to a post-sectarian era," Royce said.

"Al-Qaeda has become very skilled at exploiting this sectarian rift, and Maliki's power grab has given them much ammunition."

ISIL has also been fighting security forces in Anbar, a mostly Sunni desert region bordering Syria where fighters have held parts of Ramadi and all of Fallujah for weeks.

In a speech on Wednesday, Maliki was optimistic:

"Our battle in Anbar, that is about to come to an end due to the mettle and courage of the fighters and field commanders, aims at protecting Iraqis nationwide and not only in Anbar. Anbar is severely suffering from the terrorists gangs which hit the dignity of the citizens there."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies