Baghdad car bombs near government offices
At least 132 people were killed on Sunday after two car bombings struck the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. Over 500 were hurt in the attacks, which were the worst to strike the country in over two years.
The attacks occurred at the Justice Ministry building and a provincial government office close to the high-security Green Zone part of the city. The explosions came during rush hour, at 10.30 local time (7.30 UTC).
Officials have warned that the death toll is likely to rise, as rescue workers are still searching underneath the rubble of collapsed buildings to find more bodies.
Sources gave conflicting reports as to whether suicide bombers were involved in the attacks, or whether the bombs had been detonated remotely. According to the police, cars loaded with explosives had been parked in garages close to the targeted buildings.
So many people were wounded in the blasts that private cars helped ambulances transport bodies to local hospitals. Rescue efforts were hindered by the heavy rush hour traffic. The buildings targeted by the bombings caught fire, and officials had to close down roads nearby as fire trucks tried to quell the flames.
Yasmeen Afdhal, 24, who works for the Baghdad provincial administration, was a witness to one of the bombings. He described his experiences: “the walls collapsed and we had to run out. There are many wounded, and I saw them being taken away. They were pulling victims out of the rubble, and rushing them to ambulances.”
Iraqi council member Mohammed al-Rubaiey said that about 25 staff members of the Baghdad Provincial Council, which runs the country’s capital, died in the bombings.
Hamid Saadi, the owner of a shop near the blast, told the news agency Reuters that the explosion caused significant destruction. “The explosion destroyed everything […] it’s like it was an earthquake, nothing is still in its place,” he said.
A reporter for the BBC said that the force of the blast was so strong that it could be felt for several miles away.
Prime Minister Nouri Maliki accused al-Qaeda of being behind the bombings. “These cowardly terrorist attacks must not affect the determination of the Iraqi people to continue their struggle against the remnants of the dismantled regime and al-Qaeda terrorists, who committed a brutal crime against civilians,” he said in a statement. “They want to cause chaos in the nation, hinder the political process and prevent the parliamentary election.”
The attacks come ahead of planned elections, which are to be held next January. The authorities have warned that more such attacks could take place by rebels wishing to destabilise Iraq.
While violence in the country has dropped substantially since the height of sectarian fighting, the attacks were the second major security breach in Baghdad – a city filled with checkpoints – in two months. Twin bombings in August of this year struck another two government buildings, killing about 100 people.