Two suicide car bombers struck a crowded area outside a state-run bank Sunday in Baghdad, killing nearly 30 people in the latest attack targeting a high-profile part of the capital.
The blast, which tore the glass facade off the three-story Trade Bank of Iraq building, leaving chairs and desks exposed, occurred shortly after 11 a.m. as the area was packed with people at the start of the local work week.
Iraqi officials initially said the explosives-packed cars were parked a few hundred yards apart, but later said the attacks were staged by suicide bombers.
Security forces swarmed through the debris while cleanup crews used forklifts to move the charred wreckage of several vehicles destroyed by the blast.
The chairman of the Trade Bank of Iraq – which was established to facilitate international trade and reconstruction efforts after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion – said five guards were among the dead and six others were wounded.
Hussein al-Uzri blamed insurgents trying to undermine Iraq’s progress and promised they would fail.
“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 after Sunday’s attack.
Persistent bombings in Baghdad and surrounding areas have raised fears that insurgents are stepping up attacks in a bid to foment unrest by exploiting the political deadlock following inconclusive March 7 parliamentary elections.
Last week, suspected al-Qaida in Iraq militants stormed the central bank and exchanged gunfire with Iraqi security forces in a standoff that brought part of the capital to a standstill.
The ability of the insurgents to penetrate areas with tight security also has raised questions about the readiness of Iraqi forces to take over their own security less than three months before all American combat troops are to leave the country, the first step toward a full withdrawal by the end of next year.
“The irresponsible acts of those politicians have encouraged al-Qaida sleeper cells to resume work and strike again,” said Ahmed Abdullah, an engineer in the Electricity Ministry. “Ordinary Iraqis are paying the price of the political struggle in Baghdad.”
The bank is in a commercial area surrounding Nisoor Square that includes a government agency that issues national identification cards and the telephone exchange building.
“It was a tremendous explosion that shook the building and shattered all the glass. We were all in a panic and left our offices immediately,” said a bank employee working at the time of the attack. He declined to give his name for security reasons.
Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, the main Iraqi military spokesman for Baghdad, said at least 18 people were killed and 42 wounded.
But three Iraqi police officials and a doctor at the Yarmouk hospital where many victims were taken put the toll at 28 killed and 57 wounded. Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the chaotic aftermath of bombings in Iraq.
In other violence Sunday, the police chief in Duluiyah, a former insurgent stronghold north of Baghdad, escaped an assassination attempt, but two other people – a guard and a bystander – were killed when the roadside bomb struck his convoy, police and hospital officials said.
A series of bombings and a rocket attack also struck the capital late Saturday, killing five people, officials said.
Police and morgue officials said the decomposed bodies of six women and a man were found buried in the backyard of a deserted house in the religiously mixed Zayouna neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. The seven victims apparently were killed two to three months ago, the officials said.
Iraqi women are frequently killed by religious extremists who accuse them of behavior deemed un-Islamic.
The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information to the media.
Frustration has been high over the inability of Iraq’s politicians to come together to choose a prime minister and form a government even though the new parliament was seated last week. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been acting in a caretaker role as he battles to keep his job after a rival Sunni-backed political bloc won a narrow victory in the vote.
In the city of Basra, hundreds of mourners chanted slogans against the Iraqi government Sunday as they held a funeral for a man killed when police opened fire during a protest over power cuts in the southern, oil-rich city.
The protest signaled growing anger over the lack of power, clean water and other utilities despite billions of dollars in reconstruction funds since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
“Down with the government, down with al-Maliki,” mourners chanted during a procession bearing the coffin of the man killed.
Haidar Salman, a 26-year-old father of three, was killed when police opened fire to disperse the crowd after protesters started throwing rocks and pushed toward the local government headquarters in Basra.