x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Baghdad bomb blasts kill 120

Four explosions close to government buildings hit Iraq's capital an hour after car bomb detonates near police patrol.

BAGHDAD // A wave of violent chaos engulfed Iraq's capital yesterday as a series of co-ordinated bombs, including at least two suicide attacks, struck the city, killing at least 120 people and wounding as many as 513 others.

Four explosions hit Baghdad within the space of a few minutes, all close to government buildings. An hour earlier, a suicide car bomb detonated near a police patrol in the southern neighbourhood of Doura. The attacks, the worst since October 25 when two car bombs killed 155, further called into question the government's ability to protect its citizens and prompted angry complaints about failures by the police and army.

"We have already sent a formal message to Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki saying that the current security plan has failed," Hadi al Amri, the head of the Iraqi parliament's security commission, said. "It is clear that we need a new security plan. "There have been consistent warnings that government and civilian targets will be increasingly attacked in the run-up to the national elections, but insufficient action has been taken to stop those attacks."

Mr al Amri said his committee had previously raised concerns about corruption within the ministry of interior and ministry of defence, but that no steps appeared to have been taken to remove suspect officers who may be in league with insurgent groups. "Frankly, we are all astonished that nothing has been done about this," Mr al Amri said. A number of MPs have now called for a full-scale inquiry into the bombing.

Government buildings appeared to be the main targets of these latest attacks, although civilians seem to have borne the brunt of the casualties. Police reports indicated that one car bomb exploded in or near the Karkh law court complex, another near the ministry of labour, a third in Mansour, and the fourth blast - a bomb thought to have been carried in an ambulance - went off close to the new finance ministry site, next to a Shourja market. The old finance ministry was destroyed in an August bombing.

At least one building close to the market was demolished by the blast and rescuers were digging through the rubble looking for survivors. Mohammad Abdel Wahid, a market trader, said the area had been crowded with shoppers when the explosion occurred. "A lot of people died today in this place," he said. "It was busy. What I don't understand is how they got such a bomb in there. To come here you have to pass four checkpoints.

"If we are looking for those responsible, let us look at the corrupt officers inside the ministry of interior and ministry of defence who let the bombers through. Al Maliki and his government must take action. They must do something to stop yet another repeat of this." As the bombs exploded, other government ministry buildings were evacuated, according to one civil servant, amid concerns that there would be more attacks. Ali Jassim, a senior director in the youth ministry, said his staff members were told to leave their offices, close to the Karkh law courts.

One of the court buildings had collapsed as a result of the bombing. Nearby cars and lorries were in pieces and in flames. "From what I saw, the bomber managed to get through a checkpoint and into the court's secure area," Mr Jassim said. "If the reports say 100 people were killed, I would say that was a conservative estimate." It was a terrible scene," Mr Jassim continued. "There were bodies everywhere. If you told me 200 were dead, I'd think you were understating the situation."

Casualty figures from yesterday's four Baghdad bombs varied, although reports compiled from city hospitals indicated at least 127 were dead and 513 wounded. In the aftermath of such devastating attacks, the death toll often rises as the heavily injured succumb to their wounds. The US military said soldiers were sent to assist with security, keeping watch as firefighters pulled injured bystanders from beneath slabs of concrete, and experts were sent to help collect forensic evidence from the blast sites. US combat forces were pulled out of Iraq's cities this summer, handing responsibility to Iraqi troops.

The latest attacks overshadowed yesterday's announcement by Iraq's presidency council that delayed national elections will take place on March 6, after much debated legislation was approved late on Sunday. Mr al Amri, of the parliamentary security commission, speculated the bombs had been timed to coincide with the election ruling. "Whoever was behind these bombs co-ordinated them with the decision to pass the election law," he said. "The aim was to stop the political process that has been taking place and that is taking root in Iraq. But this kind of terrorism will not stop the election from going ahead."

Overall levels of violence in Iraq have dropped since 2007; nevertheless insurgent attacks remain commonplace. On Monday, seven children were killed and 41 injured in an explosion at a school in the Sadr City area of Baghdad. Other similar, smaller scale incidents - largely unreported in the international media - take place as a matter of routine. Rarely a day passes in Baghdad without security officers or civilians being murdered, officials assassinated or bombs set off. These, in conjunction with larger, mass casualty attacks such as those yesterday, are beginning to undermine people's fragile sense of security.

That will come as a serious concern to Mr al Maliki, who won popular support last year for his tough action against militias. His strong showing in January's provincial council elections was the result, in part, of his reputation as the man who had helped restore security to a war-torn country and his current re-election campaign has been heavily based on his security credentials. No group has yet claimed responsibility for yesterday's attacks. Previous large-scale bombings were blamed on a coalition of al Qa'eda-style extremists and Baathists by the Iraqi authorities, although the Baath Party, loyalists to former president Saddam Hussein, denied involvement.

Iraq's military spokesman, Major Gen Qassim al Moussawi, again accused Baathist and al Qa'eda-linked extremists. "The same hands that implemented the August and October attacks have carried out today's terrorist attacks against innocent civilians," he told the Associated Press. nlatif@thenational.ae