Iraqi police say gunmen have killed three candidates Thursday who planned to run in Saturday's provincial elections.
They say at least two of the candidates were from Sunni-based political parties, and that they died in separate attacks in Baghdad, in an area northeast of the capital, and in the northern city of Mosul.
One of the candidates belonged to the Iraqi Concord Front, a large Sunni bloc in Iraq's parliament. Another was from the Iraqi National Unity List, and the third was with the Reform and Development party.
At least three other candidates have been killed, and several more have survived assassination attempts. Overall violence in Iraq has ebbed in recent months, but officials have been bracing for a resurgence in the days leading up to the elections.
Meanwhile, Iraq's government says U.S. security firm Blackwater is no longer authorized to operate in Iraq, where it provides protection to U.S. diplomats.
Baghdad has accused Blackwater security guards of unlawfully killing 17 Iraqi civilians in a 2007 Baghdad shooting.
Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf said Blackwater's Iraqi license has expired, and Baghdad will not renew it. Iraq now has authority over such matters, under a security pact with the United States that took effect this month.
A U.S. official in Baghdad gave no specific date when Blackwater would have to leave.
Five American Blackwater guards involved in the 2007 shooting are on trial in Washington on charges of manslaughter in the killing of 14 unarmed Iraqis. U.S. officials are investigating several other deaths in the case.
The Blackwater guards say they came under fire while protecting a U.S. State Department convoy. Defense lawyers say the men are innocent.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.