x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Suicide bombs hit Baghdad bank

Double suicide car bombs exploded outside a major state run bank in Baghdad killing at least 26 people and wounding dozens more.

Baghdad // Double suicide car bombs exploded outside a major state run bank in Baghdad yesterday, killing at least 26 people and wounding dozens more. The latest in a series of mass casualty attacks, it follows a prolonged siege on the central bank last week, in which militants - also using suicide bombs - battled security forces for more than an hour in the heavily defended heart of the capital.

Yesterday's 11am strike targeted the Trade Bank of Iraq, an institution at the forefront of trying to attract foreign investors to the country. According to Iraqi officials, two cars laden with ammonium nitrate explosives were driven at the main gate, detonating when they hit blast walls designed to protect against such strikes. The explosions were sufficiently powerful to carve deep craters in the road and severely damage the three-storey bank building, despite its bullet-proofed glass. Five of the dead and six of the wounded were guards, with another two of those killed were police officers on-duty at a nearby interior ministry office.

The bank chairman Hussein al Uzri called the attack "cowardly" and said it had failed. "The work of building Iraq's economic strength ... goes on uninterrupted, as does the work of the bank, which will be open for business tomorrow," he said in a statement. No one has claimed responsibility for the bombings, but the use of deliberately suicidal tactics has led the authorities to suspect al Qa'eda in Iraq. The US military this month announced a majority of the militant network's leaders had been arrested or killed and that its resources were dwindling.

Since the disputed March 7 election, however, Iraq has been in a state of political limbo that foreign diplomats and ordinary Iraqis fear is creating a security vacuum. Not only has a new government not yet been appointed - more than three months after the ballot - but a resolution to the impasse seems a long way off. A sectarian Shiite coalition, including the incumbent prime minister Nouri al Maliki, is claiming the right to form the government, as is its main rival, the secular Iraqiyya grouping, led by Ayad Allawi. There is no indication that the two sides have been able to settle their differences and, in addition to that, there is considerable disunity within the groups that is stymieing progress.

All of which has added up to a sense of drift and insecurity here, just months before the US military is scheduled to draw back its forces to 50,000 and cease combat operations. Violence is lower than it was at its peak in 2007 but has remained persistent and at high levels, with hundreds of Iraqis typically killed each month by insurgent acts. The death rate is sufficient that some US academics still consider Iraq to be in a state of civil war.

A series of rockets and bombs hit Baghdad on Saturday night, killing five people. Iraqi officials have urged the population to remain patient and steadfast in the face of such atrocities, although there are growing signs of frustration at failures to stop attacks and provide basic services, including electricity. "The security situation is fragile and can get worse at any moment," said Baghdad resident and independent political analyst Ahmed al Khafaji. "The country needs a government to control things, without that al Qa'eda or anyone else can do whatever they want here.

"As things stand, there is no one, no authority to control the situation. The time the political parties are using to arguing with each other is being filled with explosions and violence. " @Email:nlatif@thenational.ae