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Apr 24, 3:44 PM EDT

Suicide attack in Iraq kills at least 11 people


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BAGHDAD (AP) -- A suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into a police checkpoint south of Baghdad on Thursday morning, killing at least 11 people, officials said, the latest episode in an uptick in violence in the run-up to next week's parliamentary elections.

The attack struck during the morning rush hour, when the checkpoint at one of the entrances to the city of Hillah, about 95 kilometers (60 miles) south of Baghdad, was crowded with commuters.

Among the 11 killed were seven civilians and four policemen while 27 people were wounded in the bombing, a police officer said. The blast also damaged about 15 cars nearby.

A medical official confirmed the casualty figures. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The Shiite-dominated city of Hillah has seen sporadic violence recently. Last month, a suicide car bomber hit another checkpoint in same area, killing 36 people.

Iraq has seen a spike in violence since last year, with the death toll climbing to its highest levels since the worst of the country's sectarian bloodletting between 2006 and 2008. The U.N. says 8,868 people were killed in 2013, and more than 1,400 people were killed in the first two months of this year.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which bore the hallmarks of an al-Qaida spin-off group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The group and other Sunni militants frequently use car bombs and suicide attacks to target public areas and government buildings in their bid to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government.

Next Wednesday, Iraq is to hold its first parliamentary elections since the U.S. troops' withdrawal in late 2011. More than 9,000 candidates will compete for 328 seats.

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Associated Press writer Murtada Faraj contributed to this report.

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