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Date set for Iraq provincial poll

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Iraq has said provincial elections, which are seen by the US as a key step in the national reconciliation process, will take place on 31 January.

The vote will be held in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces - excluding Kirkuk and three autonomous Kurdish provinces.

Many Sunni Arabs and some Shia groups boycotted the polls in 2005, leading to the election of what some Iraqis see as unrepresentative local councils.

It came as at least five people were killed in two separate bomb attacks.

The first bomb, reportedly planted on a motorcycle, killed at least two people when it exploded in a busy marketplace in the town of Khalis, 80km (50 miles) north of Baghdad.

A female suicide bomber later blew herself up at a hospital near Falluja, west of Baghdad, killing three people.

It is believed the target was a hospital manager - a leader of the mainly Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party. He was not there at the time.

The Iraqi Islamic Party is violently opposed by some Sunni groups because of its links with the Shia-dominated government.

Reconciliation

The elections will take place "in one day in Baghdad and the other provinces," Qazim Abudi, administrative director of the Iraq High Electoral Committee, told AFP news agency.

"The electoral campaign will start at the end of this month or at the beginning of next month and it will last for two months," he said.

Polls had been scheduled for October this year, but were cancelled after MPs failed to reach an agreement over how the law would be applied to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, whose status is disputed by Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens.

As a compromise, parliament agreed in September to deal separately with the issue of Kirkuk, so that elections could go ahead in other parts of the country.

Elections will be held there and in the three provinces of the autonomous Kurdish region at a later date, reports say.



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