Iraq bombings kill 27 soldiers, police at voting station

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Iraqi soldiers inspect the site of a suicide bombing outside a polling station in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on April 28, 2014 as members of the Iraqi security forces cast their votes in the country's first election the departure of US troops in late 2011. (Photo: AFP - Marwan Ibrahim)

Published Monday, April 28, 2014

Updated 6:27 pm: Deadly attacks on Monday, including a spate of suicide bombings, killed 27 soldiers and policemen as they cast their ballots ahead of Iraq's first election since US troops withdrew.

The bombings in Baghdad and north and west Iraq raise serious concerns about the ability of the country's security forces to protect voters during Wednesday's general election, when more than 20 million Iraqis are eligible to vote.

Attackers wearing suicide belts hit polling centers in Baghdad and cities north of the capital, while roadside bombs struck military convoys and targeted journalists covering the polling.

At a voting center in western Baghdad where seven security members were killed, ambulances rushed to and fro, collecting the wounded, as soldiers cordoned off the street and ushered passersby away, an AFP journalist said.

Five members of the security forces were killed by another suicide bomber at a polling station in the city's north.

Attacks elsewhere left 15 dead overall -- all members of the security forces -- officials said.

Overall, more than 70 people were wounded in the bloodshed.

In the main northern city of Mosul, meanwhile, six journalists were wounded as a bomb went off while they were travelling in a military vehicle to cover police and troops voting.

The blasts shattered an early morning calm, when soldiers and policemen had queued outside voting centers amid tight security across Baghdad and around the country as polls opened, leaving with the traditional purple ink-stained finger indicating they had voted.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, lambasted by critics for allegedly consolidating power and targeting minority groups amid a deterioration of security, is bidding for a third term in the polls with Iraqis frustrated over poor basic services, rampant corruption and high unemployment.

The month-long 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 angry debates.

I have come to vote "for the sake of Iraq, and to change the faces who have not served Iraq," said Ahmed, a policeman wearing civilian clothes who was queuing at a polling station in central Baghdad and declined to give his full name.

Along with more than 800,000 members of the security forces who are eligible to vote at upwards of 500 polling centers nationwide, hospital and prison staff, patients and inmates were also voting on Monday.

The election commission meanwhile said that more than 60,000 ballots had so far been cast in out-of-country voting which continues through Monday.

Attacks on candidates, election workers and political rallies have cast a shadow over the vote, however, and parts of the country that have been out of government control for months will not see any ballots cast.

Authorities have announced a week of public holidays to try to bolster security for the election.

The unrest is the latest in a months-long surge in violence that has claimed nearly 3,000 lives already this year, while anti-government fighters have held control of an entire town a short drive from Baghdad since the beginning of the year.

(AFP)

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