AFP: Three suicide car bombs targeting the Iranian and Egyptian embassies rocked Baghdad Sunday, killing 30 people in a surge of violence as Iraqis struggle to form a government four weeks after elections. By Mehdi Lebouachera
BAGHDAD (AFP) — Three suicide car bombs targeting the Iranian and Egyptian embassies rocked Baghdad Sunday, killing 30 people in a surge of violence as Iraqis struggle to form a government four weeks after elections.
Officials said the near-simultaneous blasts late morning injured around 168 people while witnesses reported mayhem in central Baghdad as ambulances and emergency workers raced to the sites of the explosions.
"They were suicide attacks against the Egyptian and Iranian embassies," said Major General Qassim Atta, spokesman for the Iraqi security forces' Baghdad operations.
He added that one of the bombings may also have been targeting the residence of the German embassy.
The explosions occurred within minutes of each other, shattering windows in nearby buildings, sparking bursts of gunfire and sending large plumes of smoke billowing across the Iraqi capital.
An interior ministry official said two apparently coordinated suicide car bombs hit the diplomatic west Baghdad neighbourhood of Mansur, and a third huge explosion struck the Iranian embassy in the centre of the city soon afterwards.
The three blasts killed at least 30 people and wounded another 168, the official said.
"The explosion (at the Iranian embassy) was really strong," said Abu Ahmed, a taxi driver who was inside a shop at the time of the blast.
"They never kill ministers, officials or heads of state. They kill taxi drivers, public employees and shopkeepers. How much longer will this last?"
An AFP correspondent counted five bodies at the scene of the Iranian embassy blast — three trapped inside burning car wrecks and two being carried into ambulances, one of whom did not have any legs.
Egyptian and Iranian officials said the attacks on their embassies caused no casualties among their staff.
"In this blast… fortunately none of the Iranian embassy employees have been hurt, but the embassy building is heavily damaged," Kazem Sheikh Forutan, Iran's charge d'affaires in Baghdad was quoted as telling the Fars news agency.
The Iranian official described the blasts as an act by "enemies of the two nations" of Iraq and Iran.
In Cairo, the Egyptian foreign ministry said in a brief statement that there were no victims at its Baghdad embassy.
Sunday's blasts follow major sets of co-ordinated explosions in the Iraqi capital in August, October, December and January which in all killed more than 400 people.
They came as Iraqi political parties negotiate to form a government, nearly a month after a general election that left four main blocs, none with sufficient seats to form a parliamentary majority on their own.
Iraq's two biggest political blocs — the Iraqiya list of ex-premier Iyad Allawi and the State of Law Alliance of sitting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki — are battling to form coalition governments, more than a week after results from the March 7 poll were released.
Security officials have warned that a protracted period of coalition building could give insurgents an opportunity to further destabilise Iraq.
"This is very bad — if the political parties do not get an agreement fast, we are going to return to sectarian war," said Ziad, a 47-year-old off-duty army officer, referring to the confessional bloodshed that blighted Iraq in 2006 and 2007.
Ziad's car was only 30 metres (60 feet) from the Iranian embassy blast when it happened — its windows were shattered and the front of the vehicle was crushed from the force of the explosion. He escaped with minor head injuries.
Sunday's violence follows an attack blamed on Al-Qaeda at a village south of Baghdad in which security officials said 25 villagers were rounded up and shot execution-style early Saturday morning.
An Iraqi security spokesman said on Sunday that the gunmen who carried out the massacre posed as American soldiers in a bid to reassure villagers before shooting them.
The victims were from Iraqi families linked to an anti-Qaeda militia.
Though the frequency of attacks has dropped significantly across Iraq since its peak in 2006 and 2007, figures released on Thursday showed the number of Iraqis killed in violence last month, 367, was the highest this year.