At least 36 people have been killed and 60 injured in a suicide bombing in eastern Iraq, two days before the country heads to the polls in the first nationwide elections since the 2011 withdrawal of US forces.
Polling stations across the country was targeted on Monday, killing at least 62 people, including 19 security personnel.
Seven policemen were also killed in a suicide attack near a polling station in central Kirkuk province.
According to security and medical officials, the attack targeted Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the town of Khanaquin in Diyala province who had been celebrating the first public appearance of ailing President Jalal Talabani.
Talabani, a popular Kurdish leader who has been in Germany since December 2012 receiving treatment for a stroke, was seen voting in Berlin.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan reporting from Baghdad said the latest attack would be seen as another sectarian attack against Kurdish forces, further blighting these elections.
“The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) had said they would carry out attacks both on campaign days and the polling days, and they’ve made good on their promise.”
In the build-up to the election, Iraqi army and police personnel have begun voting before the rest of the nation’s 22 million registered voters head to polls.
The early voting on Monday is meant to free up the one million-strong military and security forces for election day on Wednesday, so they can protect polling stations and voters.
But as voting got under way, an explosion in El Mansour in western Baghdad killed five people and injured nine others. Police said the blast happened after a device was thrown into a polling station.
The attack appeared to target security personnel voting on Monday.
More than 9,000 candidates are vying for 328 seats in parliament, which is widely expected to be won by an alliance led by Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Associated Press news agency reported.
Security was tight amid concerns that Sunni fighters, blamed for a recent resurgence of sectarian violence, could target polling stations.
Surge in violence
Hospital patients, medical staff and detainees were also voting on Monday. Abroad, Iraqi expatriates in more than 20 countries will also be able to cast ballots for a second day.
Iraq is experiencing a surge in sectarian violence, with Sunni fighters increasingly targeting security forces, army troops and members of the nation’s Shia majority.
The resurgence of violence, which nearly tore Iraq apart in 2006 and 2007, underscores the precarious politics of a democratic, but splintered nation.
The biggest election-related violence in Iraq came on Friday, when a series of bombings targeted an election rally for a Shia group, killing at least 37 people.
The rally for the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq was held at a sports stadium in eastern Baghdad to present the group’s parliamentary candidates.
Al-Qaeda breakaway group, ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack, which triggered a wave of revenge killings late on Friday and Saturday.