x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Baghdad triple car bombs kill 35

A series of co-ordinated explosions, including three suicide car bombs targeting embassies, kill at least 35 people and wound some 200 others.

Baghdad // A series of co-ordinated explosions devastated Baghdad yesterday, including three suicide car bombs targeting embassies, killing at least 35 people and wounding some 200 others. Near-simultaneous blasts hit the Iranian, Egyptian and German foreign missions late yesterday morning. Another two car bombs failed to reach their targets, according to security officials. One bomber was believed to be heading for the national intelligence offices when he was shot, while another explosives-laden car blew up prematurely in southern Baghdad, killing the militants setting it up. Security sources also said a suicide bomber was shot and killed near the Syrian embassy, although that report remained unconfirmed last night. Rockets and mortars had previously fallen on Baghdad, some hitting the green zone area, and four roadside bombs detonated elsewhere in the city. Many of the casualties were low-level government employees, some working in a bank near the Iranian embassy, while the others were civilians and guards. Egyptian and Iranian officials said the attacks on their missions caused no casualties among their staff. The German foreign ministry said one of its Iraqi guards was among the dead. Large columns of smoke rose above the Iraqi capital after the powerful blasts, and the sound of gunfire and sirens split the air. US forces were put on standby to assist with casualty evacuation and bomb disposal. There was a consensus in Baghdad that the attacks were timed to coincide with political uncertainty about Iraq's future following the March 7 elections. Despite results being announced no leader has yet emerged, the various factions still locked in negotiations about who will rule the country. It is a limbo that Iraqis and international observers had warned would be exploited by insurgents and, with yesterday's bombings, those fears were shown to be well founded. "These are extremely dangerous times and unless political solutions are arrived at quickly, the situation will get even worse," said Mahmoud al Mashadani, the former parliamentary speaker. "The armed groups, the terrorists, are looking to exploit the continued political conflict and they must not be given further opportunities to do so. "Whoever did this will be happy to see Iraq burn to the ground and, for the sake of a peaceful future, the different parties must come together and quickly form a national government that can unify the country." The desperate need for political reconciliation, after what has proven to be a divisive election heavily tinged with sectarian rhetoric, was underlined by some of the reactions on the streets of Baghdad after the bombs. There were alarming signs that lingering sectarian tensions, long considered on the wane, might again be on the rise. "I'm afraid for the future, especially if the Shiites move to stop Sunnis and Ayad Allawi from being included in the government," said Mohammad al Jabouri, a resident of Adhamiya, a Baghdad neighbourhood once notorious as a stronghold of the insurgency. "These attacks are the responsibility of [prime minister] Nouri al Maliki, they are an attack against the Sunnis." He accused Iran of trying to manipulate the election results and manufacture a friendly government, a claim he insisted was proved by recent visits of leading Iraqi Shiite political figures to Tehran for talks on forming the next administration. Mr Allawi, who won the most parliamentary seats, narrowly beating Mr al Maliki's coalition into second place, has pointedly not visited Iran. Much of his support is drawn from Sunni areas, which openly express anti-Iranian sentiments, a stark contrast to Mr al Maliki's support base. Both Mr al Maliki's and Mr Allawi's groups failed to win enough seats to form a government and must seek coalition partners. Both men continue to assert their right to take the post of prime minister. In the Shiite dominated neighbourhood of Karrada, Qassim al Hussein said the bombings underlined the continued potency of Sunni militants and underscored the need for Shiite unity. "I'm afraid, all Shiites are afraid that if Allawi comes to power he will bring with him the Baathists who commit these crimes against us," he said. "In the face of such pressure and with our Arab neighbours unwilling to accept a Shiite prime minister, we have no choice but to turn to Iran for support." The view that yesterday's violence was a bloody extension of the ongoing political negotiations, and risked spiralling further out of control, was endorsed by independent political analyst Ali al Allawi. "We are in the impossible situation of still not knowing who runs the country," he said. "The Shiites are trying to reform their grand coalition that will exclude the Sunnis, while the Sunnis and the Arab states see Allawi as their last chance to stop Iraq slipping into Shiite hands forever. Neither side will back down." The bombs had come on top of that impasse, he said, and were likely to further polarise the various groups. "Sunnis will say al Maliki cannot secure Baghdad and that the bombs are evidence they must run the government; the Shiites will say they are under attack from the Sunnis and that they must unite to stop the return of al Qa'eda and the Baathists. "The distance between the two sides will grow and it will be the Iraqi people who suffer. "Who died in these bombs? It's the ordinary people, this murder is the result of this ridiculous political conflict." Sunday's bombings come one day after an attack on a village south of Baghdad in which gunmen dressed in security service uniforms executed 25 people, including women. The killings have been blamed on al Qa'eda-style militants but rumours are already circulating in Sunni areas that the murderers were Shiite militias - another indication of brewing sectarian discord. Violence in Iraq remains at high levels, despite much touted security improvements. Official figures released Thursday showed 367 people were killed in March, an average of 11 per day. nlatif@thenational.ae