BAGHDAD – Two near-simultaneous bombings targeted a crowded downtown Baghdad coffee shop and nearby restaurant, killing at least 23 people and wounding 26, according to police and hospital officials.
A foreign assessment team also released a report saying it found numerous violations and reports of fraud during the Dec. 15 parliamentary election but it did not question the final result. The International Mission for Iraqi Elections praised the ability to stage elections during a raging war and said there was an "urgent need ... for a formation of a government of true national unity."
Iraq's election commission prepared to announce final election results possibly as early as Friday, and the Interior Ministry said the number of troops and police on the streets would be sharply increased ahead of the announcement.
The bombing occurred on Baghdad's Saadoun Street, the first targeting a coffee shop that killed 16 people and wounded 21, said police Lt. Bilal Mohammed. Police gave conflicting accounts as to what caused the blast, ranging from a suicide attacker wearing an explosives belt to a rigged cigarette cart with artillery shells placed inside.
Seconds later, a blast caused by a planted bomb rocked a nearby restaurant, killing at least seven more people and injuring five, including two women, Mohammed added.
Alaa Abid Ali, a medic at Baghdad's Kindi Hospital, said at least 14 bodies were received at his hospital while nine were taken to Ibn al-Nafis Hospital.
The blasts shattered nearby shop windows and destroyed several cars. Wooden tables and chairs were strewn over the bloodstained pavement on which rescue workers treated some of the wounded. Two men wailed above the dead bodies of two men covered with bloodstained blankets outside the coffee shop.
American and Iraqi officials had predicted a surge of violence ahead of the announcement of the election returns. Scores of people died in violence across the country Wednesday.
Thirty people were dragged from their cars at crude checkpoints erected on unpaved roads and shot dead execution-style in farming areas in Nibaei, a town near Dujail, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, said police Lt. Qahtan al-Hashmawi.
Insurgents also opened fire on a convoy of the mobile telephone company Iraqna, killing six security guards and three drivers in western Baghdad. Two engineers, believed to be Kenyans, were missing and feared kidnapped.
Two American civilians were killed in a roadside bombing in the southern city of Basra. They worked for the Irving, Texas-based security company DynCorp and were training Iraqi police. A third American was seriously wounded in the attack, the U.S. Embassy said.
In Italy, Defense Minister Antonio Martino said his country will withdraw its troops from Iraq by the end of the year — the first official timeline for the end of the mission.
Martino told a parliamentary committee the operation "will be considered concluded at the end of the year, having definitively completed its mission."
Italy has 2,600 troops based in the south of Iraq. The country's mission "will gradually faze out in the course of the year, and another type of mission, substantially a civilian one," will replace the troops, Martino said.