BAGHDAD -- Militants linked to al Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility Tuesday for a pair of powerful truck bombs that killed 155 people and wounded 600 in the latest insurgent assault on the fragile Iraqi government.
The carnage Sunday was the second coordinated attack that al Qaida in Iraq has claimed recently in an apparent campaign to bring down Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's administration ahead of January elections, which are in jeopardy of being postponed by political wrangling and security concerns.
Senior Iraqi officials announced a tentative agreement on the drafting of a new election law, but the measure still requires approval from legislators, who remain divided on several major issues. Kurdish factions also are wary of the handling of disputed territories in the agreement, which is scheduled for discussion in parliament Wednesday.
A smooth election would pave the way for a full withdrawal of U.S. forces, allowing the Obama administration to focus on the widening war in Afghanistan.
The Islamic State of Iraq issued a statement Tuesday saying that its operatives "targeted the dens of infidelity," referring to the Iraqi Justice Ministry and the Baghdad Provincial Council, where the two bombs exploded Sunday.
The statement, which was posted on Web sites and couldn't be independently verified, taunted the Shiite Muslim-led Iraqi government and its ally, Iran. The Sunni Muslim militants also dubbed the Justice Ministry "the Ministry of Injustice and Oppression."
Maliki's government is struggling to project defiance at a time when insurgent attacks have destroyed the buildings and hampered the work of four key ministries: Justice, Foreign Affairs, Finance, and Municipalities and Public Works. Two of the ministries were hit in Sunday's attacks; the others were evacuated after similar truck bombings in August.
Baghdad Gov. Salah Abdul Razaq, whose office building is in ruins after the latest attack, lashed out at the central government and security commanders Tuesday in fiery remarks broadcast live on state television. Abdul Razaq criticized the leadership for staying bunkered inside the heavily protected Green Zone while growing more out of touch with ordinary Iraqis. He accused security chiefs of running their own fiefdoms and of turning a blind eye to "leniency and carelessness" at checkpoints.
"If they cannot protect us," the governor warned, "we'll protect ourselves in our own way. That message should be delivered."
Iraqi bureaucrats, many of them recovering from injuries, are working out of makeshift offices as they mourn dead colleagues and start projects from scratch without crucial records that were lost in the bombings.
Administrators from all four ministries said their surviving staff members continued to show up to work even though most offices had been ordered vacated until further notice because the areas remained so hazardous.
"The ministry is not a building. It is people and their work," said a senior official from the Finance Ministry, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to issue public comment. "Terrorism has forced us to abandon the building, but the ministry work continues. The damage they inflicted is superficial."
At least 85 percent of Iraq's landmark Foreign Ministry was destroyed. Staff members now are working in shifts so they don't overcrowd the few floors that are still in use, said a senior diplomat, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic. An entire side of the 10-story building is sheared off, revealing a rubble-strewn structure with charred workspaces.
The Municipalities Ministry, which oversees the city governments throughout Iraq, will require several months before work can resume there, said Sermed Mohammed Jassim, a ministry spokesman. He added with pride that some employees reported for duty Monday, the day after the bombing just outside the ministry.
About half of the Justice Ministry was leveled in Sunday's attacks, and the rest of the compound is being cleared of rubble in hopes of renovation, said Iraqi Judge Abdulsattar al Biraqdar, the senior spokesman for the High Judicial Council. He said there were plans to rent temporary offices or relocate to another government building during the cleanup. Authorities have said that 24 children were killed in the bombing as they left a day care center for the families of Justice Ministry employees.
Biraqdar said that judges, some of whom were wounded, have vowed not to let the courts become backlogged because of the attack . They were lucky, he said, that official procedure calls for copies of sensitive records to be kept off the premises. Most of the justice system's original archives were destroyed in the bombing, he said, including nearly all of the Supreme Court's files.
"The person who did this is a monster. He and all those backing him are monsters, not human beings," Biraqdar said. "What are the victims of this terrorist act guilty of except being diligent employees and hardworking providers for their families?"
(Issa is a McClatchy special correspondent. Allam reported from Cairo, Egypt. Special correspondents Laith Hammoudi and Mohammed al Dulaimy contributed to this article from Baghdad.)
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Read what McClatchy's Iraqi staff has to say at Inside Iraq
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