Baghdad bombers kill 22 despite tight security ahead of poll results

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Two near-simultaneous bombings targeted a crowded Baghdad coffee shop and nearby restaurant yesterday, killing 22 people.

The attacks came as a foreign assessment team reported evidence of fraud during the December parliamentary elections, but did not endorse calls for a rerun.

The bombings occurred despite government moves to heighten security as the election commission prepared to announce results of last month's balloting.

The announcement, which could come on Friday, sets the stage for talks on a new national unity government that officials hope will help calm the insurgency and enable the to beginning of troop withdrawal.

The first blast occurred at a coffee shop on bustling Saadoun Street in the heart of the city. Seconds later, a blast caused by a planted bomb rocked a nearby restaurant down the street.

Some officials said the first blast was triggered by a suicide attacker wearing explosive vest, while others insisted both were caused by remotely detonated bombs.

The blasts were part of an upsurge in violence which has swept Iraq this week, but officials had predicted a spike in violence when the election figures are released.

* The trial of Saddam Hussein was on the brink of collapse yesterday with calls for the sacking of the new chief judge. The denunciation of Sayeed al-Hamashi as a former Baathist was another severe blow to the case. The Iraqi authorities were engaged in bitter recriminations over the affair, with senior officials warning that the trial had been fatally damaged and had "lost credibility".

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