Bombs kill dozens on Baghdad's deadliest day in 18 months

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 19, 2009 

WORLD NEWS USIRAQ 3 MO

A truck laden with explosives blew up next to Iraq's Foreign Ministry, killing at least 47, Wednesday, August 19, 2009. (Adam Ashton/Modesto Bee/MCT)

ADAM ASHTON — MCT

BAGHDAD — Two trucks loaded with explosives blew up Wednesday near Iraqi government buildings, killing at least 95 people, wounding 543 and marking the bloodiest day in the capital in more than a year.

Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki blamed Sunni Muslim extremists for the attacks, which appeared intended to shake confidence in his government before January's national elections.

The bombings hit the city 50 days after American forces withdrew from urban areas, shifting responsibility for Baghdad's security to Iraq's army and federal police.

Maliki said in a written statement that the attacks would prompt the government to reassess its security tactics. He stressed that Iraqi security forces were performing the jobs that he'd asked of them.

"These events are aimed at destabilizing security and embarrassing security agencies, which have performed very well in reducing violence in the past year," said Sami Askari, one of Maliki's close political advisers.

People who were near the bombings, however, said Iraqi security forces weren't doing enough to protect the city. Before the attacks, Baghdad had been removing checkpoints and bringing down blast walls.

"Where are the police? I lost a brother, and they are sitting in their cars with air conditioning," said Um Khatab, whose 42-year-old brother died when the floor where he worked at the Foreign Ministry collapsed in the day's largest bombing.

Her cries of mourning reverberated in the street while teams of police officers sifted through the site, making their way past burnt-out cars and scorched pavement.

The bomb that took her brother's life exploded next to the Foreign Ministry near a spot where a security checkpoint stood earlier this summer. The attack killed 60 people, wounded 315 and buckled the face of the building.

The other bomb detonated under a traffic bridge near the Finance Ministry. It tore down part of the bridge, killed 35 people and wounded 228.

Another 20 people were wounded in four smaller attacks across Baghdad; two of them were from homemade bombs, while the other two were mortars.

The Interior Ministry announced that it had defused a third truck bomb, which had 1 ton of explosives and was parked near a central Baghdad hospital.

The impact of the truck bombs rattled windows for miles, and a cloud of black smoke rose above the skyline. They were the deadliest strikes in Baghdad since February 2008, according to McClatchy's Iraq violence records

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and Gen. Ray Odierno, the top American military commander in Iraq, said the Foreign Ministry attack appeared intended to prevent Iraq from working with international partners to stabilize the country.

The explosions also showed that attackers who've planted bombs near mosques and religious gatherings since American forces withdrew from Baghdad’s streets June 30 are considering new targets: the pillars of government.

The bombings prompted calls among Iraqi leaders for an investigation into the ranks of the Iraqi police, whom the Interior Ministry governs, and the Iraqi army, which the Defense Ministry oversees.

Many Iraqis assumed that the attacks couldn't have been pulled off without help from someone in those departments. Otherwise, the vehicles would have been searched at any number of checkpoints that still crisscross Baghdad despite recent attempts to scale them down.

"The attacks that have happened lately are well-planned, well-executed and with multiple attacks in locations that are considered to be high-security zones," said Ammar Tuma, a member of parliament. "It is obvious that there are infiltrations and cooperation from high-ranking positions to enable this kind of attack to be carried out."

Hadi al Ameri, the chairman of parliament's Security and Defense Committee, also suspects that someone is helping insurgent groups such as al Qaida in Iraq execute bombings. He said that the third truck bomb — the one the Interior Ministry defused — should be used to find the culprits.

"They must be made an example of," he said. "Unless this happens, do not doubt that the crimes will continue."

Iraqis near the Foreign Ministry think that their government doesn't have the will to stop the attackers.

"They will bomb at the time they want, at the place they want, whenever they want," said Kamal Khamin, who lives near the ministry.

A parking lot across from the ministry was full of crushed cars with broken windows. Some men tried to drive them away, knocking out shards of glass while keeping one hand on the wheel.

"Our house is destroyed. Where are we going to sleep tonight? It would be better if I had died," said Katheema Hanoon, who owned a street vending booth next to the Foreign Ministry where she sold snacks and water. She was buried under her goods and shelves after the bombing. A taxi driver helped her out, and she felt fine an hour after the explosion.

Her rescuer's taxi was wrecked, its hood smashed and its windows broken.

"I didn't hear anything. Everything just fell apart," said the driver, Nissan Jabaar.

Some fear that the heavy days of sectarian violence, in which dozens of people were killed every day in Baghdad, are returning.

"It is brother killing brother, son killing father," said Hanoon, the street vendor.

Ashton reports for The Modesto (Calif.) Bee. McClatchy special correspondents Mohammed al Dulaimy and Sahar Issa contributed to this report.

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