24 killed in hour-long street battle in Iraq
BAGHDAD // Gunmen wearing official uniforms stormed a government building in central Baghdad yesterday, sparking an hour-long street battle with security forces that left at least 24 people dead and 35 wounded.
The midday attack on the ministry of justice in the Allawi district of the capital was heralded by a string of near-simultaneous suicide bombings that drove workers inside the building in a panicked search for safety.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but suspicion fell immediately on Al Qaeda's Iraqi arm. The group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, frequently uses car bombs and coordinated blasts in an effort to undermine Iraqis' confidence in the Shiite-led government.
Hakim Al Zamili, a member of parliament, said some of the men who attacked the ministry had been wearing the uniforms of the Facility Protection Service, a unit of building guards overseen by the interior ministry.
The fighting between guards and gunmen ended after about an hour, when the security forces charged the four-storey building and regained control.
Workers from the nearby ministry of justice had moved to the facility after a 2009 attack on their building. It was part of a double car bombing that killed at least 147 people and caused heavy damage to the building which is only now being repaired.
Yesterday's attack took place about a kilometre from the heavily fortified Green Zone that houses several foreign embassies and Iraqi government offices.
Violence in Iraq has subsided from its peak in 2006 and 2007, but deadly attacks remain frequent a decade after the US-led invasion that began on March 20, 2003.
Since December, Iraq's government has been challenged by weekly protests by Sunnis angry about perceived discrimination.
The demonstrations have been largely peaceful, and most Iraqi Sunnis do not express any support for Al Qaeda, but the terrorist group has nevertheless hoped to exploit the increasing tensions
It believes that Shiites are heretics and that Iraq's government is too closely allied with Iran.
* With additional reporting by the Associated Press
Updated: March 15, 2013 04:00 AM