Archive for Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wave of blasts in Iraqi capital kills at least 95

August 20, 2009


— Nearly simultaneous truck bombs struck Iraq’s Foreign and Finance ministries Wednesday as a wave of explosions killed at least 95 people, bringing the weaknesses of Iraqi security forces into sharp focus less than two months after U.S. forces withdrew from urban areas.

It was the deadliest day of coordinated bombings since Feb. 1, 2008, when two suicide bombers killed 109 people at pet markets in Baghdad. More than 400 were wounded in Wednesday’s blasts, including a deputy foreign minister.

The new American role was on sharp display as the military said it responded to onsite requests from Iraqi commanders for assistance, providing intelligence to help guide rescue crews and deploying explosives experts to clear areas of potential bombs.

U.S. transition teams assisted with security cordons and medics helped the wounded. Helicopters buzzed overhead.

“We helped the victims when and where we could, in accordance with our Iraqi allies’ requests,” said Lt. Col. Philip Smith, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Baghdad.

The extent of the carnage shocked the Shiite-led government and dealt a devastating blow to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s efforts to return Baghdad to normal and reinforce his chances in parliamentary elections in January.

Al-Maliki blamed Sunni insurgents linked to al-Qaida in Iraq and said the attacks were designed to foil plans to reopen streets and remove concrete blast walls from Baghdad’s main roads by mid-September.

He said the Iraqi government must reassess security measures — the first government acknowledgment that his moves may have been premature so soon after U.S. troops left the cities at the end of June.

“The criminal acts that took place today require us to re-evaluate our plans and security mechanisms in order to confront the terrorist challenges and to increase cooperation between security forces and the Iraqi people,” he added in a departure from his usual calls on the public to hold steady in the face of an escalation of attacks.

He said an alliance of al-Qaida in Iraq and Saddam Hussein loyalists was behind the attacks, and that the government has placed Iraq’s army and police forces on high alert.

“What happened is a security breach because security forces are responsible for maintaining security and protecting the lives of civilians,” said Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, an Iraqi military spokesman.

The violence began when a suicide truck bomber took aim at the Finance Ministry complex in northern Baghdad, causing part of a nearby overpass to collapse. A female employee emerged from the building after the blast in an apparent state of shock, her clothes stained with blood.

Hospital officials said at least 28 people were killed and 117 wounded in that blast.

Minutes later, a truck bomb exploded outside the Foreign Ministry, charring dozens of cars in a parking lot and shattering the facade of the white, 10-story building near the Green Zone.

The massive blast left a 30-by-15-foot crater and knocked down part of the concrete wall surrounding the ministry’s perimeter, killing at least 59 people and wounding 250.

It blew out windows of the building and left furniture turned upside down inside exposed offices. Wires dangled and air conditioning pipes were ruptured. Slabs of concrete hung precariously from the front of the building.

Firefighters extracted charred bodies from vehicles that had been caught in the explosion.

Several of the apartment buildings across the street from the ministry complex were extensively damaged. Satellite dishes were mangled or blown away.


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