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Day of violence in Iraq kills 35 ahead of vote

Suicide bombing at Baghdad cafe and mortar strikes on mosque in run-up to provincial elections today.

BAGHDAD // At least 35 people were killed in Iraq in the space of 24 hours as the country prepared for today's elections, the first since US troops withdrew.

The attacks raised further questions about the credibility of the provincial elections, with 14 candidates already killed and a third of the country's provinces not even voting amid a continuing political crisis.

The polls are regarded as a crucial test of Iraq's stability and security, and a gauge of the popularity of the prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, as he grapples with infighting in his national unity government and months of protests by the Sunni minority.

Four mortar shells hit the Abu Tamur mosque in the town of Khales yesterday, which is in Diyala province, as worshippers were leaving after mid-day prayers. Seven people were killed and 12 wounded.

And in the disputed northern city of Kirkuk, a bombing at a Shiite mosque that also houses offices of the political movement loyal to the anti-US imam, Moqtada Al Sadr, killed one person and wounded 15, a Sadrist official and a medic said.

Yesterday's attacks came after a bombing on Thursday night in the west Baghdad suburb of Amriyah that left at least 27 dead and more than 50 wounded. Among the dead were at least three children and one woman.

The blast hit the Dubai cafe in a small shopping mall on the main road in a predominantly Sunni neighbourhood. It was mostly frequented by young men playing billiards and video games. Witnesses reported heavy damage in the building.

Security forces restricted access to the neighbourhood and movement within it, with motorists having to pass through six checkpoints to enter. But the tightened searches did little to placate the anger in Amriyah, where many residents accused the authorities of negligence.

"If it was not them [soldiers] who did it, it was their fault," said one resident. "We are surrounded by walls and checkpoints, so if it's not them who did it, they helped because they were lazy or they did not perform the checks well. It's their fault."

The latest attacks follow a wave of violence had left 110 people dead between Sunday and Thursday.

* Agence France-Presse

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