Wave of Iraq attacks kills 24 ahead of polls
BAGHDAD - Agence France-Presse
Iraqi security forces personnel inspect the site of a car bomb attack in Nassiriya, 300 km (186 miles) south of Baghdad, April 15, 2013. REUTERS PhotoDozens of attacks across Iraq today, including a brazen car bombing en route to Baghdad airport, killed at least 24 people just days before the country's first elections since US troops withdrew.
The violence, which struck during morning rush hour amid tightened security ahead of the polls, also wounded more than 210 people and raises further questions about the credibility of the April 20 vote, seen as a key test of Iraq's stability and its security forces' capabilities.
A total of 14 election hopefuls have already been murdered and just 12 of the country's 18 provinces will be taking part.
Officials said 20 car bombs exploded Monday in Baghdad, the northern cities of Kirkuk, Tuz Khurmatu, Mosul and Tikrit, the central city of Samarra, and Hilla and Nasiriyah south of Baghdad.
Roadside bombs also hit Baquba, north of the capital, and there was a shooting near Baghdad.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Sunni militants linked to Al-Qaeda frequently attack both government targets and civilians in a bid to destabilise the country, and have reportedly sought to intimidate candidates and election officials ahead of polls.
The deadliest attacks were in Baghdad, where six car bombs struck in five neighbourhoods across the capital despite tougher checkpoint searches and heightened security.
Eight people were killed and 48 wounded in the capital, security and medical officials said, and an AFP journalist reported that officials in a tow truck were checking for suspicious vehicles in central Baghdad in the wake of the violence.
In Tuz, which lies 175 kilometres (110 miles) from Baghdad, three car bombs struck in the centre and east of the town minutes apart from around 8:00 am (0500 GMT), killing six and wounding 60, according to a provincial council member and a doctor.
The explosions elsewhere in Iraq killed one person and wounded 58.
The credibility of the April 20 vote has been drawn into question as 14 election hopefuls have been murdered and just 12 of the country's 18 provinces will be taking part.
Soldiers and policemen cast their ballots for the provincial elections on Saturday, a week ahead of the main vote, the country's first since March 2010 parliamentary polls.
The election comes amid a wave of unrest and a long-running political crisis between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and several of his erstwhile government partners.
More than 8,000 candidates are standing in the elections, with 378 seats on provincial councils up for grabs. An estimated 16.2 million Iraqis are eligible to vote, among them about 650,000 members of the security forces.
Although security has markedly improved since the height of Iraq's confessional conflict in 2006-2007, 271 people were killed in March, making it the deadliest month since August, according to AFP figures.