Two women died in a blast at a polling station in Iraq Wednesday as the country headed to the polls for its first parliamentary elections since the US withdrew its troops, according to Iraqi officials.
The blast occurred in the town of Dibs, near the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, according to a police official and a doctor at a nearby hospital.
Elsewhere, militants seized another polling station in north Iraq, evacuated election staff and voters and set off explosives, destroying the building, according to a security official and an election commission employee.
Earlier in the day two mortars landed near voting centers west of Baghdad Wednesday morning. The mortars did not cause any casualties, according to Shaker al-Essawi, a senior municipal official in the area just west of Baghdad.
Elsewhere in Iraq, militants set off nearly a dozen sound grenades in the ethnically mixed town of Tuz Khurmatu, north of Baghdad, while a senior police chief in Kirkuk province survived an assassination attempt carried out with twin bombings targeting his convoy, officials said.
The violence came after two days of bloodshed that left nearly 90 people dead nationwide, ahead of the nationwide vote in which Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is seeking a third term in office.
Unrest has surged in recent months, with more than 750 people killed already this month, according to an AFP tally.
In an effort to keep violence from marring the elections, hundreds of thousands of troops and police have fanned out to guard voting centers in what is also the first nationwide balloting since the 2011 American pullout. Polls across the energy-rich Arab nation opened at 7 a.m. local time and will close at 6 p.m.
Iraq’s 22 million registered voters are electing a 328-seat parliament.
In central Baghdad, police and army manned checkpoints roughly 500 meters (yards) apart, while pickup trucks with machine-guns perched on top roamed the streets. Much of the city looked deserted without the normal traffic congestion that Baghdad is notorious for. Most stores were closed.
Voters are being subjected to multiple searches before they are allowed inside polling enters. Streets leading to the centers are blocked by police trucks and barbed wire.