Deadly attacks grip Iraq on eve of polls
Twin bombings killed 10 people northeast of Baghdad on Tuesday, the day after a wave of nationwide attacks cast a pall over Iraq's first general election since US troops withdrew.
The bloodshed across Iraq on Monday, which involved nine suicide bombings and several other blasts, raises questions over whether Iraq's security forces can protect upwards of 20 million eligible voters during Wednesday's polls.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, under fire over the worst protracted surge in violence in years along with a laundry list of voter grievances, is bidding for a third term in office in the election, the country's first since 2010.
The Shiite premier has trumpeted a battle against violent jihadists whom he claims are entering Iraq from war-torn Syria and supported by Gulf Arab states including Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
But critics say the authorities' heavy-handed treatment of minority Sunnis has contributed to the unrest.
In a sign of the worsening violence, a spate of attacks on Monday killed 57 people in Baghdad as well as north and west of the capital, fuelling fears voters may stay at home rather than risk being caught up in bloodshed.
On Tuesday morning, twin bombings northeast of Baghdad killed 10 more people.
"I can't imagine the militancy is going to sit back and say, 'Yeah, have your election'," said John Drake, a London-based security analyst at AKE Group.
"They are going to make a strong statement undermining the government, undermining the capability of the security forces, and hopefully deterring voters so that the vote result will be seen as illegitimate ... in the eyes of many of the electorate.
"This will harm the government, and make the terrorists seem more credible."
Nearly 3,000 people have been killed in violence so far this year, according to an AFP tally, including more than 700 already this month.
The unrest is the country's worst since it was plagued by all-out sectarian fighting in 2006 and 2007 that left tens of thousands dead.
Authorities announced a week-long public holiday to try to bolster security for the election, and vehicles will be barred from Baghdad's streets from Tuesday evening.
No group claimed responsibility for the latest bloodshed, but Sunni militant groups have been accused of carrying out previous suicide bombings in an attempt to derail the political process.
Maliki, who hails from Iraq's Shiite Arab majority and is accused by critics of monopolising power and targeting minority groups, is widely expected to win the largest number of seats in Wednesday's poll.
But there is widespread frustration over poor public services, rampant corruption and high unemployment, as well as the persistent violence, and because he is unlikely to win a majority on his own, the premier will need the support of coalition partners to stay in office.