BAGHDAD — At least five car bombs ripped through neighborhoods across Baghdad on Tuesday morning, killing 127 Iraqis and prompting urgent questions about Iraq's security forces just as the country gears up for national elections early next year.
The bombs detonated — three of them in quick succession — in widely scattered parts of the city, rattling buildings far from the scene and sending towers of smoke into the sky. Suicide bombers set off three of the five, the Interior Ministry said. Along with the dead, the preliminary toll was 500 wounded.
In one attack, at the federal appeals court in Mansour in west Baghdad, a suicide bomber drove his car through a barrier and ran over a law school graduate who'd shown up for a job interview, witnesses said.
A guard shot at the car but failed to stop it, and the driver detonated his bomb beside the courthouse, severely damaging the building.
It was one of several government facilities damaged in the coordinated attack, which began just before 10 a.m. Insurgents now routinely target government facilities, apparently intent on destabilizing the fragile central government.
The first of the bombs was detonated at a technical college in the southern neighborhood of Dora, killing 15 people and wounding 23.
Another blast, near Iraq's judicial institute, collapsed a highway underpass in the Qahira, or Cairo, neighborhood in northeast Baghdad.
The carnage was the worst since bombings Oct. 25 badly damaged government buildings in downtown Baghdad, killing at least 155 people.
The insurgents seemed to be sending a message that they could strike with near impunity. Two of the sites hit Tuesday, the federal appeals court and a building that belongs to the Finance Ministry, were temporarily housing agencies that had been bombed in October.
Even as Baghdadis began mourning and cleanup crews went to work, lawmakers and citizens demanded to know how explosives-laden vehicles had managed once again to move across a city pockmarked by checkpoints.
Hadi al Amiri, the chairman of the parliament's security and defense committee, said the government's defenses had failed to keep up with the insurgents' shifting tactics.
"The security procedures were workable when the security plan started, but not anymore. When the security procedures stay the same for a long time, such violations might happen any moment because the enemy had changed its tactics," Amiri said in a telephone interview.
"The parliament should question all the security officials and depose those who were careless or (who) keep silent," he said. Other lawmakers angrily echoed the demands at a session of parliament in the heavily guarded Green Zone.
U.S. military commanders and Iraqi officials have warned of increased violence in the run-up to the national elections. Iraq's presidency council on Tuesday set March 6 as the date for the election, two days after lawmakers approved an elections law after months of delay.
U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill said the string of bombings "shows there's continued security challenges," despite November having been the least violent month in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Hill told McClatchy that it was unlikely the bombings were a response to parliament's vote Sunday, since terrorist attacks generally take longer than a few days to plan.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who's staked his political future on bringing security to Iraq, blamed sympathizers of the late dictator Saddam Hussein's Baath party for bombings in October and August. The government says it has evidence the bombers received help from Syria.
Maliki's office released a statement accusing the Baath party and al Qaida in Iraq for the latest attacks.
At the courthouse, guard Mohamed Hussein said he'd just returned to the building from the parking lot and was putting files into lockers when "a huge bombing shook the building and threw me against the wall."
"My colleagues and I were fine, but as I ran out of the room and outside the building I saw the female employees and other men injured and running, not knowing where to run. We carried our general director and other employees to the hospital," said Hussein, who's 29. He was searching for his pistol and other possessions in his destroyed BMW.
U.S. military forces, who left Iraq's cities at the end of June, were more visible than usual Tuesday in parts of Baghdad, and security was tightened around the Green Zone.
The U.S. military said in a statement that it was providing security to help the Iraqi military and police, as well as assistance with explosive ordinance disposal, intelligence and reconnaissance.
Riyadh al Ameri, 54, a former Foreign Ministry employee, took a dim view of security measures, especially his government's. "It is impossible to change this situation in Iraq; we have too many enemies," he said.
Dulaimy is a McClatchy special correspondent. Special correspondents Laith Hammoudi and Jenan Hussein contributed to this article.
MORE FROM McCLATCHY
Read what Iraqis think at McClatchy's Inside Iraq.