Suicide bombers attacked several polling stations and security forces in Iraq on Monday killing at least 18 people and wounding dozens, police said, days before the violence-wracked country holds legislative elections.
The attacks were mounted while Iraqi soldiers and policemen are voting ahead of the country’s first national election since U.S. troops left with worsening sectarian ties and fears the country is slipping into all-out conflict, Agence France-Presse reported.
In west Baghdad, an attacker wearing a suicide belt targeted a polling station early Monday as security force personnel queued to vote, killing seven people and wounding 15, a police colonel said, according to Agence France-Presse.
All of those killed were police officers, a medical official said.
Soon after that attack, a suicide bomber targeted a polling center in Tuz Khurmatu north of Baghdad, killing three policemen and wounding seven, the town’s mayor said.
In the northern city of Kirkuk, a suicide bomber detonated his belt at a voting station, killing six policemen and wounding nine, according to a high-ranking security official.
Elsewhere in Kirkuk, a roadside bomb targeting an army convoy killed one soldier and wounded two.
In the northern city of Mosul, two suicide bombers attacked a polling centre. The first was killed by security forces, but the second detonated his bomb, wounding three police officers and two soldiers, officials said.
Also in Mosul, six journalists were wounded when a roadside bomb blast hit their bus as they were on their way to cover the voting by members of the security forces.
And near Ramadi, west of Baghdad, a soldier was killed when his convoy travelling to a polling station was targeted by a roadside bomb, security personnel said.
Along with members of the security forces, hospital and prison staff will also cast their ballots on Monday ahead of wider polling on April 30.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, criticized by some for allegedly consolidating power and targeting minority groups, is running for a third term in Wednesday’s polls as violence is at its worst since 2008.
The month-long election campaign has seen Baghdad and other cities plastered with posters and decked out in bunting, as candidates have taken to the streets, staged loud rallies and challenged each other in public debates.
Attacks on candidates, election workers and political rallies have cast a shadow over the election, and parts of the country that have been out of government control for months, such as areas of the Anbar province overrun by extremist fighters, will not see any ballots cast.
Voters have a long list of grievances, including poor electricity and sewerage services to pervasive graft and difficulties securing jobs, AFP reported. However, the election campaign has mainly focused on Maliki and his efforts to retain power.
His opponents, who span the communal spectrum, accuse him of shoring up his power base, while minority Sunnis in particular say the Shiite premier discriminates against them.
It is unlikely that any single party will win an absolute majority, however, and as in previous elections, coalition talks are likely to take months.
(With AFP and Reuters)