Coordinated blasts hit Baghdad; kill at least 103 (UPDATE-2)

Arab World Materials 8 December 2009 13:02 (UTC +04:00)

A series of coordinated attacks struck Baghdad Tuesday, including three car bombs that blew up near government sites. At least 103 were killed and 197 wounded in the worst wave of violence in the capital in more than a month, authorities said, AP reported.

A total of four attacks, which also included a suicide car bomb on a police patrol, showed the ability of insurgents to strike high-profile targets in the heart of Baghdad and marked the third time since August that government buildings were targeted with multiple blasts that brought massive bloodshed.

The bombings reinforced concerns about shortcomings in Iraqi security as U.S. forces plan their withdrawal. The U.S. military has sent some troops and forensic equipment to assist the Iraqis in the aftermath, said Army Master Sgt. Nicholas Conner, a military spokesman.

Overall violence has dropped sharply around Iraq in the past year, though insurgents have stepped up attacks at government sites in recent months. The bombings marked the most serious spate of violence in Baghdad since twin car bombs on Oct. 25 struck outside Baghdad administration offices, killing at least 155. In August, suicide bombers hit the finance and foreign ministries, killing more than 100.

Iraqi officials blamed the October attacks on loyalists to Saddam Hussein's banned Baathist Party - even bringing out three suspects on national television who gave what officials termed confessions.

But there are questions whether leaders are trying to shift attention away from a possible resurgence of Sunni insurgents led by al-Qaida in Iraq. A rise in insurgent power could be a serious blow to the government's credibility before national elections, which were set Tuesday for March 6 - a more than seven-week delay from the original mid-January date because of political bickering on the voting rules.

Security forces worry the lead-up to the election date could bring an escalation in attacks seeking to discredit the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The core of the attacks hit central Baghdad with three car bombs exploding in the span of a few minutes.

The targets were the latest assaults directed at Iraqi authorities: near a compound with the Labor Ministry building, a court complex near the Iraqi-protected Green Zone and near the new site of the Finance Ministry after its previous building was destroyed in major attacks in August.

An official for Iraq's Interior Ministry said at least 99 people were killed in those three car bombs and at least 192 injured. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give information to media.

About an hour before the Baghdad blasts, a suicide car bomber struck a police patrol in the mostly Sunni district of Dora in southern Baghdad, killing at least three policemen and one civilian and injuring five people, said a police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

Iraqi police said at least one of the Baghdad blasts was a suicide bomber - driving a bomb-rigged ambulance heading for the Finance Ministry. The other two explosions may have been bomb-rigged cars detonated by timer or trigger.

"What crime have we committed? Children and women were buried under debris. Why did they (Iraqi troops) let this car bomb pass!" cried Ahmed Jabbar as he staggered through the debris near the new Finance Ministry building - an area where all cars pass through checkpoints manned by Iraqi forces.

The blast tore through a nearby market and toppled at least one building nearby. Rescue teams - some using construction cranes - tried to pull away the rubble to seek for survivors.

The breakdown of casualties among the sites was not immediately clear, but the most serious bloodshed had been reported outside the new Finance Ministry building and the court complex, where at least one building was almost completely leveled.

Rescue workers climbed through twisted steel bars and crushed concrete at the flattened court building. Dozens of cars and trucks were burned and crushed.

Firefighters pulled survivors from behind huge slabs of toppled concrete. U.S. soldiers helped provide security and helped the Iraqis collect evidence from the rubble.