Sunday, October 25, 2009

Update: 136 die in worst attack of the year in Iraq

TWIN suicide car-bombs blasted the Justice Ministry and the provincial offices in central Baghdad yesterday, killing at least 136 people and sparking turmoil in the embattled Iraqi capital.

More than 700 people were wounded in the worst attack of the year. The blasts occurred within minutes of each other from about 10.30am (6.30pm AEDT) and left streets littered with charred bodies.

The blasts, which the government said were carried out by al-Qa'ida and supporters of Saddam Hussein's banned Baath Party, destroyed dozens of cars and shattered water pipes, spewing dirty water into the streets. Authorities closed off roads leading to the bomb sites as fire trucks and ambulances struggled through thick traffic to reach the blazing buildings.

A truck bomb detonated in a car park near the ministries of justice and labour, while a car bomb exploded opposite the Baghdad provincial government offices in Salhiyeh.

At least 136 people were killed and more than 700 were injured, according to a tally from four hospitals in central Baghdad, al-Karama, Ibn Nafis, Medical City and Yarmuk.

Shortly after the attacks, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited the site of the Saliyeh bombing, where he spoke to officials and security officers.

"Why are they doing this to us?" shouted a man who gave his name only as Mohammed, sitting near the ravaged provincial buildings, his clothes covered in blood.

"It's because of the election - they want to defy the government," he said, referring to January's planned general elections.

Thick smoke billowed over the stricken area and flames could be seen coming from two buildings whose windows had been shattered by the force of the blasts.

Rescue workers in Salhiyeh said they had to cover dead bodies in blankets before picking them up because they were too hot to touch.

Firemen, meanwhile, were using their trucks' ladders to reach the upper floors of the ministries, fearing that many dead and wounded could be trapped.

Several helicopters were flying over the area and dozens of humvees were lining the streets around the bomb sites.

The explosions were a grim reminder of deadly blasts that shook the ministries of foreign affairs and finance on August 19, in which about 100 people were killed.

The twin bombings came as Iraqi political leaders were to meet to try to end a deadlock over a stalled election law amid growing concerns that the country's January 16 election will have to be delayed.

The meeting was scheduled to take place at 3.30pm.

Lieutenant General Ali Ghaidan Majeed, commander of Iraqi ground forces, warned in an interview on Saturday that the coming months could see an upswing in violence in the lead-up to the January polls.

He said security would probably only stabilise by the middle of next year after a transfer of power to a new government.

"I am concerned that between now ... and July 2010, basically throughout the election and after with the transfer from the old government to the new government, maybe you will see terrorist activities increase," he said.

Attacks have fallen dramatically compared to a year ago - violent deaths in September were the lowest since May - but are high by international standards.

However, insurgents are still able to mount attacks, especially in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul, which kill dozens.

Source: The Australian

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