Twin car bombings kill 90 in central Baghdad
By Ammar Karim (AFP) – 3 hours ago
BAGHDAD — Twin suicide car bombs blamed on Al-Qaeda blasted the justice ministry and a provincial office in Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least 90 people and sparking turmoil in the embattled Iraqi capital.
Around 600 people were wounded in the near-simultaneous attacks at around 10:30 am (0730 GMT), which left streets littered with charred bodies and torn-off limbs.
The blasts, which the government said had Al-Qaeda's "signature", destroyed dozens of cars and shattered water pipes, spewing dirty water into the bloodied streets.
Authorities closed off roads leading to the bomb sites as fire trucks and ambulances struggled through thick traffic to reach the blazing buildings.
One of the attacks occurred at a busy intersection near the justice and municipalities ministries while the other was opposite the nearby Baghdad provincial government offices in Salhiyeh neighbourhood.
At least 90 people were killed and almost 600 injured, according to a tally of tolls from four hospitals in central Baghdad -- Al-Karama, Ibn Nafis, Medical City and Yarmuk.
Shortly after the attacks, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki visited the site of the Salhiyeh bombing, where he spoke to officials and security officers but made no statement.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement the attacks could be targeting upcoming parliamentary elections in January, and added that they have "the fingerprints of Al-Qaeda and its allies."
Haidar Assem, an employee of the ministry of municipalities, said he awoke to find himself in Al-Karama hospital, his head bandaged and his shirt covered in blood.
"I was busy working when there was a massive explosion," said the 30-year-old engineer. "My colleagues fell down all around me, the office became completely dark and then I found myself in the hospital."
Thick smoke billowed over the stricken area and fires could be seen from two buildings whose windows had been shattered by the force of the blasts.
Rescue workers in Salhiyeh had to cover dead bodies in blankets before picking them up because they were too hot to touch, an AFP correspondent said.
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 truck bombings which shook the ministries of foreign affairs and finance on August 19, in which around 100 people were killed.
Baghdad blamed those attacks on supporters of the Baath party of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, whom it claims were given safe haven in neighbouring Syria.
The incident saw a dramatic deterioration of ties between the neighbouring countries, with Maliki throwing fuel on the fire by alleging that 90 percent of foreign militants who infiltrate Iraq do so via Syria.
Talks between officials of the two countries brokered by Turkey have failed to defuse tensions, with Iraqi officials accusing their Syrian counterparts of "lack of seriousness."
Sunday's 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 3:30 pm (1230 GMT). There was no immediate information as to whether the meeting would go ahead as planned.
Lieutenant General Ali Ghaidan Majeed, commander of Iraqi ground forces, cautioned in an interview with AFP on Saturday that the coming months could see an upswing in violence ahead of the January polls.
He said security would likely 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 dropped dramatically compared to a year ago -- violent deaths in September were the lowest since May -- but remain high by international standards.
However insurgents are still able to mount high-profile attacks, especially in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul, which kill dozens.