Baghdad coffee shop bombing kills 12

A late-night bombing at a coffee shop in west Baghdad killed at least 12 people on Thursday, the latest in a spike in violence just days ahead of Iraq's first elections since US troops withdrew.

The 10:00 pm (1900 GMT) blast struck in the mostly-Sunni Amriyah neighbourhood and also wounded 24 people, security and medical officials said. Among the dead were at least three children.

An estimated 13.5 million Iraqis are eligible to vote for more than 8,000 candidates standing in Saturday's provincial elections, with 378 seats being contested.

Iraqi forces are solely responsible for polling day security, the first time they have been in charge without support from American or other international forces during elections since dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.

US forces eventually withdrew from Iraq in December 2011.

Diplomats have raised questions over the credibility of the vote, however, with attacks leaving at least 14 candidates dead and a third of the country's provinces not even taking part, including two where authorities say security cannot be guaranteed.

The elections are being held amid a spike in violence. Attacks have killed more than 200 people each month so far this year, compared to tolls well below that figure for the last three months of 2012, according to AFP figures.

While violence has fallen significantly from the height of Iraq's sectarian war, the country still faces major security challenges, mainly from Sunni militants linked to Al-Qaeda who carry out attacks in a bid to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government.