BAGHDAD: Insurgents vowing total war on Iraq's landmark polls killed 17 people on the eve of the vote yesterday and threatened a bloodbath on election day.
Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi urged the country's fractious religious and ethnic groups to defy "enemies trying to break us and to break our world" and to vote in Iraq's first multi-party elections in half a century.
Even as US-trained security forces barricaded streets, sealed Iraq's borders and closed Baghdad airport, more than a dozen polling stations were attacked and bloodshed continued to overshadow the final electoral countdown.
With just a day to go before the polls, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a US-Iraqi security centre in the town of Khanaqin, northeast of Baghdad near the border with Iran.
The US military said three Iraqi soldiers and five civilians were killed.
Al Qaeda's ally in Iraq, led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, claimed responsibility and threatened mayhem when voters go to the polls from 7am (0300 GMT) today.
"For the last time, we warn that tomorrow will be bloody for the Christians and Jews and their mercenaries and whoever takes part in the (election) game of America and Allawi," it said in a statement posted on an Islamist website.
Most other attacks were concentrated in the Sunni heartland north of Baghdad where the insurgency has been fiercest and where many once-privileged Sunnis plan to boycott the election.
The election is the cornerstone of the Bush administration's plan to transform Iraq from dictatorship to democracy after the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003. But it risks fuelling the insurgency and fomenting sectarian strife.
The US military said insurgent attacks had more than tripled to 98 on Thursday from 29 last Saturday.
Zarqawi has been behind most of the deadliest attacks in Iraq and has a $25 million US bounty on his head.