Attackers struck targets across Iraq Monday morning,setting a bloody backdrop to the last week of campaigning as Iraqis prepare to vote in local elections on Saturday.
As of midday on Monday,as security officials and medical workers continued to count the dead and wounded,at least 55 people had been killed and more than 140 wounded in nearly 20 separate attacks,mostly car bombings,in Baghdad,Kirkuk,Hilla,Falluja,Nasiriya and Tikrit,according to local officials.
The local elections,the first since the withdrawal of the American military at the end of 2011,are being anticipated warily by American diplomats and United Nations officials as a crucial test of Iraqs shaky democracy.
Elections or not,Iraq is subject to regular attacks that randomly target civilians,and while American officials usually stress the improvements in security since the carnage of Iraqs civil war in 2006 and 2007,the rate of civilian deaths from terrorism has been rising since the departure of American troops,according to the United Nations.
Much of the regular violence is attributed to al-Qaeda in Iraq and in recent weeks the country has faced an increase in violence that has been clearly linked to the elections. Candidates have been assassinated,political gatherings targeted and,during Mondays violence,two schools in Hilla that were to serve as polling sites were blown up by homemade bombs although no one was killed as the schools were empty.
Later in the day,in Babel province,whose capital is Hilla,security officials declared a state of emergency after revealing they received intelligence that armed groups were planning to carry out attacks at polling stations across the area.
On Saturday,700,000 members of Iraqs security forces – the police and the army – cast ballots a week early,so they can be on hand to provide security on April 20.