Baghdad cafe bomb kills 27 as unrest spikes before vote

Nuri al-MalikiThe cafe is mostly frequented by young men playing billiards and video games. (Reuters)

Violence spiked as Iraq readied today for its first elections since US troops withdrew, with 27 people killed in a late-night bombing at a Baghdad billiards cafe frequented by young men.

The attack raises further questions about the credibility of tomorrow's provincial elections, with 14 candidates already having been killed and a third of the country's provinces not even voting amid an ongoing political crisis.

The polls are seen as a key test of Iraq's stability and security, and will provide a gauge of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's popularity as he grapples with infighting in his national unity government and months of protests by Iraq's Sunni Arab minority.

The latest bombing struck at 1900 GMT yesterday in the west Baghdad suburb of Amriyah, leaving 27 dead and more than 50 others wounded, security and medical officials said.

Among the dead were at least three children and a woman. It exploded at the Dubai cafe, which lies on the second floor of a small shopping mall in the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood that is filled with families as it contains restaurants and clothes shops.

The cafe itself, however, is mostly frequented by young men playing billiards and video games. Security forces restricted movements in Amriyah today in the wake of the blast. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Sunni militants linked to Al-Qaeda frequently set off bombings in both Sunni and Shiite neighbourhoods across the capital, and the country.

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