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Bombers Kill Dozens as Iraq Vote Nears

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BAGHDAD — Even with Iraqi security forces on a heightened state of alert in advance of Sunday’s national elections, dozens of Iraqis were killed Wednesday in a devastating series of suicide bombings in the restive city of Baquba.

Helmiy al-Azawi/Reuters

Iraqi security forces at the site of one of the series of bombings on Wednesday in the city of Baquba northeast of Bagdhad.

Multimedia

The attacks began with two car bombings near campaign offices and government buildings.

Then, as swarms of people rushed to a local hospital, ferrying the dead and wounded and looking for relatives, a man hiding a suicide belt under a dirty white robe entered the emergency room, a local policeman said.

An injured man at the hospital said he noticed the attacker just before the explosion.

“Then I saw a huge flame crashing down on me,” said the man, who gave his name only as Muhammad. “There was fire everywhere. I passed out and was awakened by the wails of a woman weeping over an injured 7-year-old boy. There were bodies and blood everywhere. It was horrific.”

Grieving relatives screamed amid the rubble, calling out the names of loved ones even as security officers scrambled to lock down the entire city. The attacks left at least 31 people dead and 55 wounded, according to local security officials.

An elderly woman, who identified herself only as Hashmiya, sat in the bloody street in front of the hospital, throwing dirt on her head to mourn the deaths of her husband and son. “Where is security?” she asked. “Why are they lying to us and saying there is security? Death has taken everything from us.”

Violence across the country has spiked in the weeks leading up to the election, with twice as many people killed in February as in January. Most of the daily attacks are bombings, shootings and assassinations. Since August, militants have also managed to carry out attacks on government buildings and other institutions, killing hundreds and undermining the public’s confidence in the Iraqi security forces.

The attacks in Baquba were similar to the large bombings in Baghdad in recent months, with militants striking several targets in a coordinated and deadly fashion.

Jassim Khalid, the police officer who saw the attacker enter the hospital, described a scene of utter chaos after the first two bombings, one of which took place near the campaign headquarters of candidates allied with former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

As night fell, the entire city remained locked down under a strict curfew.

Officials have warned of an increase in violence surrounding the elections and have made extensive plans to blanket the nation with hundreds of thousands of security officers. Already, the authorities have banned motorcycle and bicycle traffic in Baghdad, and on election day no civilian cars will be allowed on the roads. Still, there were three small bombings in and around the capital, killing at least one Iraqi Army soldier and injuring five people.

Surveillance at the ubiquitous checkpoints on all of Iraq’s major roads has also been increased, and officials have announced a flurry of arrests this week of people who they say were planning to carry out attacks around the election.

Baquba, the capital of the ethnically mixed province of Diyala, has proved one of the more difficult areas to pacify. Violence between sects has left the city divided. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and militant offshoots of the Baath Party have recently stepped up recruitment in the region, according to American military officials in the area.

Delair Hassan, a member of the provincial council in Diyala Province, said that militants would continue to attack, and he blamed the security forces for not taking more precautions.

“The security forces should have been more careful,” he said. “They know we are heading toward elections and will be targeted. These incidents carry the fingerprints of Al Qaeda, which aims at paralyzing the electoral process. And I expect that there will be other operations in coming days, the goal of which will be to stop people from voting.”

An Iraqi employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Baquba, Iraq.

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