Massive bombings cast doubt on Iraqi security, elections

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 25, 2009 

BAGHDAD -- Suicide bombers in cars packed with explosives killed at least 132 people and wounded 600 more outside Iraqi government buildings Sunday morning in nearly simultaneous blasts that were powerful even by Baghdad's grim standards.

The bombings were the deadliest since April 2007, according to casualty figures released by Iraqi authorities, and they drew particular outrage because they struck at cabinet ministries and city government offices that are supposed to be especially secure.

One of the explosions also ruptured a water line, causing a flood that turned red as it mixed with blood. Corpses bobbed underwater and dangled from rooftops. An Iraqi soldier fainted at the scene upon hearing that eight of his comrades had died.

"This is unbearable; this is criminal," said Mahmoud al Fahmawi, an ambulance driver who collected jaws, a heart and other body parts from the scene. "God didn't order jihad as this. Jihad is not killing or bombing innocents."

Iraqi authorities said that Sunday's bombings appear to have been carried out by two suicide attackers in cars or trucks that exploded almost simultaneously at around 10:30 a.m. Sunday, the first day of the workweek in Iraq. The timing was devastating, both for the scores of ordinary Iraqis who were killed en masse as they arrived at their jobs and for the Iraqi government, which has been trying to address security and political problems in time for January elections.

American and Iraqi officials were hoping for a calm election season that would pave the way for a swift U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, but a political stalemate over election laws and the insurgents' continued ability to exploit the Iraqi government's vulnerabilities are potential spoilers. Now the January polls are in jeopardy, along with the Obama administration's goal of leaving behind a much more stable Iraq than the weak, violence-ridden nation of recent years.

"The United States will stand with Iraq's people and government as a close friend and partner as Iraqis prepare for elections early next year, continue to take responsibility for their future, and build greater peace and opportunity," President Barack Obama said in a statement that condemned the bombings.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's administration was still reeling from twin truck bombings in August that killed about 100 people outside state offices. Together with Sunday's similar attack, insurgents have now rendered four key government buildings -- the ministries of justice, finance, foreign affairs and municipalities -- uninhabitable.

Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, released a statement blaming elements of Saddam Hussein's predominantly Sunni Baath Party and militants from al Qaida in Iraq for the attack. As of late Sunday, no group had claimed responsibility.

A somber Maliki visited the scene of Sunday's attacks within hours, perhaps mindful of the criticism he received after he failed for days to tour the site of the August bombings.

Although he remains popular with Iraqis, who consider him a less sectarian figure than some other prominent Shiite political leaders, Maliki faces a fearful constituency and security forces that still rely heavily on U.S. military assistance despite security improvements this year.

U.S. Marines arrived at the scene of Sunday's attack with Iraqi forces, in accordance with a U.S.-Iraq security pact that requires American forces to coordinate with their Iraqi counterparts before getting involved in combat or other operations. Americans at the scene asked Iraqi security guards for surveillance videos from buildings in the area, and investigators took soil samples and carted off pieces of twisted metal.

"The challenge is that we don't own heavy rescue equipment," said Iraqi Gen. Abdul Rasul al Zaidi, the commander of the Baghdad civil defense force, who toured the site. "Secondly, it's hard for our men to arrive quickly to the sites of incidents because of checkpoints."

In interviews, residents and workers near the bombing sites said the attacks were politically motivated, required collusion from the security forces and were intended to bring down the Maliki government before the January elections.

"Look at all these checkpoints surrounding us, so how did these cars enter?" asked Radhi al Aboudi, 50. "This government will never protect Iraq. Politicians seek office to live in luxury, so it's impossible for this government or the incoming one to protect the country."

Ahmed Hussein, a carpenter who found a corpse on top of his workshop after the bombing, said he was disgusted with the heavy security presence that appears only after a massive attack.

"Where are all these soldiers before the bombings?" Hussein asked. "Some things make me furious with our security forces. They ask us silly questions at checkpoints: Where did you come from and where are you going? Then they ask what's in the back trunk, as if there's no other place to hide explosives."

(McClatchy special correspondent al Dulaimy reported from Baghdad. Allam reported from Cairo. Special correspondents Laith Hammoudi and Jinan Hussein contributed to this article.)

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