Suicide bombers attacked two police stations and a hospital Wednesday in the volatile city of Baqubah, killing at least 31 people just days before Iraq holds national elections.
Bombings had been widely anticipated in the run-up to the elections, and the Baqubah assault targeting members of the security forces that will guard the polling stations on Sunday seemed designed to disrupt the vote.
So far, however, fears of carnage similar to the attacks that killed hundreds of people on three occasions in Baghdad last year have not materialized.
The vote is pivotal because it is taking place just months before the August deadline set by the Obama administration for the withdrawal of all American combat troops. U.S. officials hope that an inclusive vote will finally stabilize the country, but there are fears that a poll tainted by allegations of fraud, or a skewed result, could trigger renewed conflict and perhaps delay the pullout.
The last national elections, in December 2005, occurred against a backdrop of widespread insurgency that limited Sunni Arab turnout and led to sectarian warfare. This time around, the country is relatively peaceful and Sunnis are expected to vote in force, despite a number of their candidates being banned.
Wednesday’s attack bore the hallmarks of the Sunni extremist organization Al Qaeda in Iraq, which had vowed to use “military means” to prevent the elections from going ahead.
Two bombers struck almost simultaneously at the police stations in the center of Baqubah, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Then, as emergency workers were ferrying the wounded in ambulances, a bomber detonated a vest rigged with explosives at the gates of the hospital, sowing carnage there.
Twelve police officers were among the dead, police said.
A spokeswoman for the provincial governor pledged that polling centers would be secured on election day and that a curfew on vehicles would prevent bombings.
People in Baqubah, for a long time one of the most violent cities in Iraq, said the attacks would not keep them from voting.
“Maybe, because of the elections, acts of violence will increase, but I don’t think it will affect the people,” said supermarket owner Najam Abdallah Shemari.
“As for myself, I will participate in the elections and I will vote, as will my family.”