SAMEER N. YACOUB
BAGHDAD (AP) -- A suicide bomber detonated explosives at a Baghdad cafe crowded with young people late Thursday, killing at least 26 and wounding dozens ahead of provincial elections scheduled for the weekend.
The rare evening attack, which came at the start of the local weekend, brought to 30 the number of people killed across the country Thursday.
The cafe bomber struck about 9:30 p.m. Police said that two children and a woman who were passing by at the time of the blast were among the dead. More than 50 people were wounded.
The packed cafe is on the third floor of a building in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Amiriyah. Police said the cafe was packed with young people enjoying water pipes and playing pool.
Earlier in the day, a car bomb struck an army convoy in Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, killing three soldiers and wounding five others. Hours later, one policeman was killed and three others were wounded when gunmen attacked a security checkpoint in western Baghdad, police said.
Hospital officials confirmed the casualties. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
Violence has been on the rise ahead of provincial elections to be held on Saturday. The vote is for local officials in several provinces across the country, including the capital, Baghdad. Authorities have been vowing to bolster security ahead of the elections.
Also on Thursday, Iraq's self-ruled Kurdish region announced that new parliamentary and presidential elections will be held on Sept. 21.
A Kurdish government statement said that Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish region, approved the date for the elections and called for a fair election.
Following the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the Kurdish area was recognized as an autonomous region that is in many ways politically independent from Baghdad. Since then, the two main Kurdish parties -- the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Democratic Party of Kurdistan -- have joined forces to rule the oil-rich region.
Baghdad and the Kurds have been at loggerheads for years over several issues, including oil and control over disputed areas claimed by both sides. The vote for a new 111-seat National Assembly would be the third election in the three-province Kurdish region since 2005.
AP writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed.
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