BAGHDAD, April 17 (UPI) -- Nearly two dozen suspected members of al-Qaida were executed for terrorism-related charges ahead of provincial elections, the Iraqi government said.
The Iraqi Justice Ministry announced that 21 suspected militants were executed after being convicted on charges ranging from bombings to assassinations, the Kuwait News Agency reports.
Brookings Institution counter-terrorism export Bruce Riedel assessed a statement from al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. In an online audio message last week, Zawahiri praised the al-Qaida franchise in Iraq for lasting longer than the U.S. occupation.
At least 8,000 candidates are competing for 378 provincial council seats in Saturday elections. More than 15 million Iraqis are eligible to vote in the elections, the first since a divisive 2010 parliamentary contest.
Bomb blasts across Iraq this week left at least 42 people dead and more than 250 others wounded in at least six provinces. Al-Qaida in Iraq took responsibility for previous bombings, though no claims of responsibility were made for the Monday attacks.
Four blasts Wednesday left at least three people dead, CNN reports. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said Tuesday "more than a dozen candidates" in the provincial election were killed in recent attacks across Iraq.
A member of the Iraqiya political slate was assassinated recently in Diyala province. Iraqiya challenged Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, in 2010 elections.