x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Car bombs shatter rare calm in Baghdad

Officials claim the government knows the culprits but say political deadlock prevents action as 31 people are left dead and more than 100 wounded.

BAGHDAD // Powerful car bombs exploded near a government office and in a residential area of Baghdad yesterday morning, killing 31 people and wounding more than 100 others in Iraq's deadliest day in a month. The two blasts hit different neighbourhoods, the well-to-do Mansour district in the east of the capital, and Kazimiyah, to the north, shattering a week of relative calm since the end of Eid al Fitr. The bombs were timed to go off nearly simultaneously, suggesting they had been carefully coordinated for maximum impact.

One of the bombs, apparently an explosives-laden minibus parked on the roadside, ripped through a security ministry building near Kazimiyah's Aden junction, demolishing concrete walls and leaving a deep crater. Interior ministry officials said at least 21 people were killed at the scene, with about 70 wounded. The Mansour bombing, which also tore huge pieces of concrete out of the surrounding buildings, killed at least 10 and injured a similar number, officials said.

To widespread frustration, Iraq has been gripped by a political deadlock since national elections took place more than six months ago. Increasingly, even security personnel complain their efforts to safeguard the country are being undermined by the failure to agree on a new government. "We know who is behind these attacks and so do some of the political parties, but the situation is delicate with the negotiations, we're not allowed to stir things us and so nothing is done," an Iraqi security official said.

No group has yet said it carried out the bombings, but recent attacks, including a commando-style raid on a military headquarters in Baghdad that left 12 dead, have been claimed by al Qa'eda in Iraq. US forces become embroiled in that fight, their first reported combat since Washington officially declared its combat operations over at the end of last month. US ground units, as well as air force have since been involved in battles with al Qa'eda in Diyala provinces and in a raid near Fallujah that killed seven, including a young boy.

Shaker Kitab, a member of parliament with Iraqiyya, the alliance that narrowly won the largest parliamentary bloc in March's elections, said Islamic militants were exploiting the current vacuum that had divided the country's politicians. The two major blocs, Iraqiyya, led by Ayad Allawi, and State of Law, which is headed by the incumbent prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, have been unable to agree on who had the right to form the next administration. Both have also failed to build a majority coalition capable of running the country.

There is scant indication of the impasse's being solved soon although Mr Allawi said he expected a government to be formed by the end of next month. "There is political conflict and poor security preparations, which are giving al Qa'eda the opportunity to attack like this without hindrance from government forces," Mr Kitab said. "At the moment the officials are sitting in their homes or are hiding in the Green Zone while this is all taking place."

The heavily fortified Green Zone, in the heart of Baghdad, was itself targeted yesterday, a series of mortars falling inside the area, which is home to Iraq's parliament, other government buildings and the massive US Embassy. Mortar and rocket strikes against the Green Zone have increased dramatically over the past month or so, according to US and Iraqi security sources. An Iraqi interior ministry officer said Shiite militants were behind the attacks, which rarely cause casualties.

"The rockets are aimed at the American embassy," he said on condition of anonymity. "Most of them miss." Also yesterday, before the twin major explosions, two people in a minibus were killed in the Shula area of north-west Baghdad by a roadside bomb. In Abu Ghraib, to the west of the capital, another roadside bomb killed a leading member of an Awakening Council, the tribal militias that helped beat back al Qa'eda in 2007. The security services and the tribal forces have borne the brunt of recent attacks, although civilian casualties in Iraq continue at a rate of 200 a month.

There was a further bombing yesterday, this time a magnetic device favoured for assassinations. It killed a father and son as they drove in a car through Baghdad's Ghazaliha neighbourhood. nlatif@thenational.ae