Two near simultaneous bombings yesterday targeted a crowded downtown Baghdad coffee shop and nearby restaurant, killing at least 23 people and wounding 26, according to police and hospital officials.
The blasts occurred as the mother of abducted US reporter Jill Carroll appealed for her daughter's release after her captors threatened to kill her if US authorities don't release all Iraqi women in military custody.
Iraqi authorities said six of the eight detained Iraqi females are expected to be released by the US military next week, but not as part of a bid to free Carroll, who was seized in Baghdad on Jan. 7. US officials declined to comment.
The bombing occurred on Baghdad's Saadoun Street, the first targeting a coffee shop that killed 16 people and wounded 21, said police Lieutenant 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.
The attacks occurred as the government's election commission prepared to announce results of the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, possibly as early as today. The Interior Ministry said the number of troops and police on the streets would be sharply increased ahead of the announcement.
A foreign assessment team also released a report yesterday saying it found numerous violations and reports of fraud during the polls, but it did not question the final results.
The appeal by Carroll's mother, Mary Beth Carroll, was made on CNN one day ahead of the kidnappers' deadline for their demands to be met.
Carroll told CNN that video images gave her hope that her daughter is alive but also have "shaken us about her fate."
Al-Jazeera television aired the first video images of her since her capture on Tuesday. The report said the 20-second video gave authorities until tonight to free the Iraqi women or they would kill the reporter.
US President George W. Bush ignored shouted questions on Wednesday about what his administration is doing to find Carroll. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said her safe return was a priority for the administration" but refused to say more "because of the sensitivity of the situation."
Scores of people died in violence across the country on 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 80km north of Baghdad, police Lieutenant Qahtan al-Hashmawi said.
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 US civilians were killed in a roadside bombing in the southern city of Basra. They worked for the Texas-based security company DynCorp and were training Iraqi police, the US Embassy said.