Baghdad, Iraq – Three powerful suicide bombings killed at least 33 people and injured more than 50 others in the restive Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, authorities said, with most of the casualties from Iraqi police who were in charge of securing the city ahead of elections this weekend.
The blasts occurred in quick succession, targeting police buildings in Baquba, the provincial capital of Diyala, where local authorities are still battling Sunni Muslim extremists who use the area’s orchards and farmlands as hideouts after U.S. and Iraqi offensives drove them from Baghdad and the west.
The attacks were the deadliest so far in the tense period ahead of Iraq’s parliamentary elections Sunday. Security forces imposed a full curfew on the city, clearing the streets of even pedestrians until further notice.
“The timing is a message to prevent people from participating in elections because it happened just a few days before the general voting and less than 24 hours before the special vote for security forces,” said Maj. Ghalib Atiyah al Jubouri, spokesman for Diyala police. “We feel people will challenge this message and reject it…I’m sure they’ll turn out for the elections in force.”
Jubouri said the first bomber drove a car packed with explosives that detonated outside the station of a police quick-reaction force at about 9 a.m. Five minutes later, Jubouri said, a second car driven by a suicide bomber exploded outside a police personnel office.
At about 10 a.m., as the Diyala police chief was visiting the wounded in Baquba General Hospital, a third bomber wearing a suicide vest blew himself up inside the hospital, Jubouri said. He said the bomber entered the compound in an ambulance — the man was dressed in a police lieutenant’s uniform and was pretending to be wounded. The police chief was unhurt in the blast.
“Unfortunately, this happened because police uniforms are everywhere in the market,” Jubouri said. “It’s a really big mistake and it should be addressed.”
Police announced they have four suspects in custody. Authorities were in a high-level meeting of Diyala’s police, Iraqi army and intelligence services for hours after the bombings, Jubouri said.
McClatchy special correspondents Laith Hammoudi in Baghdad and an Iraqi reporter in Baquba who cannot be named for security reasons contributed to this report.