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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Attack at Iraqi Hospital Kills Dozens

MAHMOUDIYA, Iraq -- A suicide car bomber attacked a hospital south of Baghdad on Thursday, killing 34 people and wounding dozens more as militants stepped up their campaign of violence ahead of elections next month.

The explosives-packed car detonated as Iraqi police were gathered outside Mahmoudiya General Hospital and a U.S. military convoy was passing, witnesses and police said. But most of those killed and wounded were civilians, including Hoda Ali Mahmoud, a 30-year-old woman who had just visited the hospital with her young son, who had a cold.

"The glass flew at us," she said as she sat up in hospital in Baghdad. "His nose was hit, and he couldn't breathe." The body of her son, less than two years old, lay on the morgue floor at Yarmouk hospital.

Hasna Aboud's son, who was due to get married next week, was also killed. "My 22-year-old son was killed while trying to bring me some medicine," she said. "I lost my only son."

The head of the emergency room at the hospital said the explosion had killed 34 people, including seven policemen, three Iraqi soldiers, a doctor and five medical staff. A total of 39 people were wounded, most of them civilians.

In a statement, the U.S. military said the hospital had been the target of the suicide attack, but the bomber had failed to penetrate its security barriers.

The bombing is the latest in a series of suicide attacks and car bomb blasts that have killed nearly 200 people since last Friday, in what appears to be a ratcheting up in violence by insurgents ahead of Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.

Many of the attacks have been sectarian, with Sunni Arab militants targeting Shiite Muslim communities.

Mahmoudiya, about 30 kilometers south of Baghdad, has seen considerable violence in the past two years. It sits in an area dubbed the Triangle of Death for the frequency of attacks there.

The Defense Ministry said earlier that soldiers had found a car west of Baghdad filled with children's toys booby-trapped with hand grenades and explosives. A government spokesman said two people had been detained.

U.S. and Iraqi forces are trying to impose nationwide security for next month's elections, when a four-year parliament will be ushered in for the first time, after several interim Iraqi authorities over the past two years.

The build-up to elections and other key events has been accompanied by a surge in violence in the past, and a similar, steady increase in attacks is expected this time around.

Training Iraqi security forces so they can take on the insurgency themselves is the key plank in Washington's plan for steadily withdrawing the 155,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested this week that a troop reduction may start fairly soon. But a significant pullout is not expected until well into 2006, as a strong presence is needed until the new Iraqi government has settled in and more Iraqi police and military units are fully trained.