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A bomb attack in Baghdad has left dozens dead and scores injured just days before provincial elections are slated to take place. The elections are an important test of Iraq’s political stability more than a year after US troops departed.
At least 32 people have been reported killed in a suspected suicide bomb blast, which took place in a popular cafe on the third floor of a building in the capital city, reports the Associated Press.
"It was a huge blast," a police official at the scene told Reuters. "Part of the building fell in and debris hit people shopping in the mall below." Rescue workers continue to search for victims.
There has been a slew of deadly incidents in the leadup to Saturday’s elections. A separate AP report notes that on Thursday a police officer was killed by gunmen at a security checkpoint in the capital and a car bomb went off near an army convoy in the northwest of the country.
Sunni extremists are believed to be behind the cafe bombing, which may be an attempt to destabilize the Shiite-led government. According to The Christian Science Monitor, “The divide between Sunni and Shiite Iraqis that brought the country to civil war has widened again recently, with many Sunni Iraqis saying the Shiite-led government has discriminated against them since Saddam [Hussein] fell.”
According to Reuters:
Ten years after the US-led invasion, Sunni Islamists linked to Al Qaeda carry out at least one major attack a month, but insurgents have stepped up suicide attacks since the start of the year as part of a campaign to provoke confrontation between the country's Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
More than 30 people were killed in a series of bombings across Iraq on Monday and more than a dozen election candidates have been killed in the run-up to the vote.
CNN reports that some fear recent violence could impact voter turnout. The United Nations special representative to Iraq, Martin Kobler, encouraged heightened security at polling places this weekend so that citizens could cast their ballots in safety.
Iraqi leaders, Mr. Kobler said, must "collectively endure a transparent and peaceful election, free of intimidation or political interference." Kobler also addressed Iraqi citizens, asking them to cast ballots this weekend. He appealed specifically to youth at one point, calling them “the future of this country.”
March marked 10 years since the US invasion of Iraq. Monitor correspondent Dan Murphy noted in the lead up to the historic date that “the war never really ended” for Iraqis.
Though Iraq is much more peaceful than it was during the height of its sectarian civil war from 2003 to 2009, which claimed more than 165,000 lives, it remains one of the world's most dangerous places. In 2011 it suffered more terrorist attacks and deaths from terrorist attacks than any other country but Afghanistan….
The Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has sidelined Sunni political rivals, when it hasn’t pursued politically-motivated terrorism investigations against them.
In Sunni majority areas … the grievances that have simmered since the US departure from Iraq have come close to boiling again.
What that means is not only more recruits for Sunni militant groups, but also a greater willingness of Sunnis not directly involved to look the other way when they stumble across a neighbor preparing a suicide car bomb in his garage.
That Iraqi unity and “reconciliation” that the US troop surge was supposed to set the stage for in the country? That never happened.
Parliamentary elections are set to take place in 2014, and many view this weekend’s vote as a test of the “political muscle” of Prime Minister Maliki’s power-sharing government, notes Reuters.