26 Oct 2009

Suicide bomb attacks rip through Baghdad

9:59 pm on 26 October 2009

Two suicide bombs have torn through Baghdad, killing 155 people and wounding more than 500 in one of Iraq's deadliest days this year.

The first bomb targeted the Justice Ministry and the second, minutes later, was aimed at the nearby provincial government building, police say.

Workers on cranes combed the broken face of the Justice Ministry, pulling out bodies wrapped in blankets.

The al-Mansour hotel, which houses the Chinese embassy and several foreign media groups, was also damaged in the explosions, about 10.30am local time on Sunday.

The blasts shredded buildings and smoke billowed from the area near the Tigris River.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office said that the bombs were meant to sow chaos in Iraq similar to attacks on 19 August, when truck bomb attacks on the finance and foreign ministry buildings killed at least 100 people.

Mr al-Maliki said the attacks would not affect the political process or parliamentary elections due in January next year.

It is the deadliest attack in Iraq since August 2007 and comes three months after the United States handed security control of cities to local forces, the BBC reports.

US President Barack Obama said the bombings were outrageous and pledged to "stand with the Iraqis".

"These bombings serve no purpose other than the murder of innocent men, women and children, and they only reveal the hateful and destructive agenda of those who would deny the Iraqi people the future that they deserve," he said.

The European Union's Swedish presidency expressed its disgust at the attacks, as did France and Britain.

Iran joined the condemnation, saying the terrorist actions were aimed at wrecking stability and the process of reinforcing democratic structures.

Government blames neighbours

The Iraqi government has blamed unnamed neighbouring countries for not stopping the attacks.

"The neighbouring and distant countries should immediately refrain, forever, from harbouring, financing and facilitating forces that openly proclaim their hostility to the Iraqi state," President Jalal Talabani said in a statement.

Iraq has complained in the past that Syria provides a safe haven for former Baathists while citizens of other Sunni Muslim states help fund the insurgency in Iraq. Iran has been accused of funding and arming Shi'ite militia.

Attacks could increase in the run-up to the election, the second national vote since American troops invaded in 2003, as forces in and around Iraq jockey for influence over the world's third largest oil reserves.

Mr al-Maliki is widely expected to campaign on improved security.

The attacks were launched as his government tries to sign multibillion-dollar crude oil deals, expected to turn Iraq into the world's third largest oil producer.