A suicide bombing inside a Shiite mosque during evening prayers and other attacks north of Baghdad killed 23 people in Iraq on Saturday (local time), as officials announced preliminary results for local elections in two provinces that showed the bloc of the country's speaker of parliament in the lead.
The attacks are the latest in a wave of killing that has claimed more than 2000 lives since the start of April. It is the bloodiest and most sustained spate of violence to hit Iraq since 2008.
The deadliest attack happened after sunset when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a Shiite mosque in the village of Sabaa al-Bour, about 30km north of Baghdad. It killed 14 and wounded 32, police said.
The community used to be a religiously mixed area that was home to both Sunni and Shiite Muslims, but the Sunnis were displaced by members of the Mehdi Army Shiite militia during the post-invasion wave of sectarian killing that peaked in 2006 and 2007, according to police.
Many large religious sites in Iraqi cities are surrounded by concrete blast walls and armed checkpoints, but police said the village mosque had no protective barriers.
At least five of the victims died in ambulances as they made their way from the remote village to the nearest hospital in Baghdad, police said.
Earlier, a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into a police patrol in al-Athba village near the restive northern city of Mosul, a police officer said. Three civilian bystanders and one policeman were killed, and six other people were wounded.
Al-Qaida in Iraq and other militant groups have been gathering strength in and around Mosul, some 360km northwest of Baghdad.
In the city of Tuz Khormato, 210km north of Baghdad, gunmen on motorcycles riddled a civilian vehicle carrying four off-duty policemen with bullets, killing three and wounding another, a police officer said.
Another group of gunmen attacked a police checkpoint in the city of Samarra, killing two policemen and wounding four, another police officer said. Samarra is 95km north of Baghdad.
Police also said two civilians were killed and nine wounded when a bomb ripped through a small market late Friday in Baghdad.
Medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but al-Qaida's Iraq arm and other Sunni extremists frequently target Shiites and security forces in an effort to undermine public confidence in the Shiite-led government.
Meanwhile, election officials said a partial count of ballots for provincial-level elections held Thursday in Sunni-dominated Anbar and Ninevah provinces showed Sunni parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi's United bloc leading with the largest number of votes in both provinces. That bloc is backed by Iraqi Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi and prominent Sunni sheik Ahmed Abu Risha.
A coalition of Kurdish parties was in second place in Ninevah, which has a sizable Kurdish minority. A bloc headed by Anbar's existing governor, Qassim al-Fahdawi, was in second place in that province.
Iraqis voted in 12 of Iraq's 18 provinces two months ago. Officials had delayed elections in Anbar and Ninevah because of what they said were security concerns, though some Iraqis questioned that rationale and dismissed it as a political ploy related to the unrest in the provinces. The provinces have been the scene of months of anti-government protests.
Final election results are expected to be released in the coming days.
Also on Saturday, the United Nations said another 27 residents of a camp housing members of an Iranian exile group have been relocated to Albania. The move follows a deadly rocket attack on the facility last week.
A total of 71 residents of Camp Liberty have now relocated to the southeast European country, which has agreed to accept 210 of them. Germany has also offered to take 100 residents. The UN is urging other member states to accept some of the more than 3000 living in Iraq.
The dissident group, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, is the militant wing of a Paris-based Iranian opposition movement that opposes Iran's clerical regime and has carried out assassinations and bombings there. It fought alongside Saddam Hussein's forces in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, and several thousand of its members were given sanctuary in Iraq. It renounced violence in 2001, and was removed from the USterrorism list last year.
Iraq's government wants the MEK members to leave, and the UN has been working to resettle them abroad.
Two residents of Camp Liberty were killed in a June 15 rocket attack on the facility. A Shiite militant group claimed responsibility, saying it wants the group out of Iraq.