BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- At least 33 people were killed and 558 wounded when two suicide bombers in cars attacked police stations in northeast Iraq today and another blew himself up in a hospital where the wounded were being treated, police said.
The attacks were the bloodiest in the immediate run-up to a parliamentary election on March 7 that is seen as pivotal for the war-scarred nation as U.S. troops prepare to end combat operations in August, ahead of a full withdrawal by end-2011.
Police said two attackers drove explosives-packed cars at police stations in the center and west of Baquba, 65 kilometers northeast of the capital, in volatile Diyala Province where Sunni Islamist groups like Al-Qaeda still battle U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces.
The third assailant, apparently wearing a military or police uniform and on foot, blew himself up in the grounds of the city's main hospital as the wounded were taken there for treatment, police said.
The sectarian slaughter unleashed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion has largely receded, but relations remain strained between once dominant Sunnis and the Shi'ite majority that was empowered by the fall of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.
The immediate run-up to the election has been marred by sporadic political violence and assassinations.
So far the campaign has not witnessed a major bombing of the sort that devastated government buildings and hotels in Baghdad in January, December, October, and August.