95 killed in Baghdad bomb carnage, US confirms no change to withdrawal

Twin truck bombs killed 95 people and wounded almost 600 in Baghdad's bloodiest day in 18 months on Wednesday, spurring Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to vow a security overhaul.

Iraqi policemen inspect the damage at the Mohammad al-Qassem bridge following a massive explosion near the Iraqi finance ministry in the northern Baghdad neighbourhood of Waziriyah on August 19, 2009. (AFP Photo)

The explosions came just minutes apart outside government ministries while a car bombing and spate of mortar attacks added to the carnage in the capital, which has been under Iraqi security control since US troops withdrew from towns and cities in the conflict-torn country at the end of June.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met with his security and intelligence officials late Wednesday during which a number of "important decisions and fast measures" were agreed upon to sustain security and stability in Baghdad, his office said in a statement.

The international community, led by the UN security council, condemned the murderous blasts, that came on the sixth anniversary of a truck bombing on the UN compound in Baghdad that killed UN special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 others.

The White House described the attacks as "senseless violence" but the Pentagon noted that they would not affect the US military's plans to withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011.

An Iraqi interior ministry official said 563 people were wounded in the truck bombs, one of which targeted the foreign ministry just outside the heavily fortified Green Zone and the other the nearby finance ministry, across the Tigris river.

"This was a calculated, deliberate attack on the restoration of normal life," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told AFP. "My assessment is it's an attack on the normalisation of life in Baghdad."

Zebari acknowledged that there had been "some serious, serious security breaches," and said that while he couldn't say who was behind the attack, its timing was "archetypal of Al-Qaeda."

In an earlier statement, Maliki said the bombings were "a desperate attempt to derail the political process and affect the parliamentary elections," planned to take place in January 2010.

"The criminal operations that happened today no doubt call for a re-evaluation of our plans and our security methods to face the terrorist challenges," the statement said.

Iraqis pointed the finger at their security forces, which in turn blamed members of executed former dictator Saddam Hussein's regime.

"I was in my home with my family when the roof collapsed on us," said a man who gave his name only as Hamid.

"The government promised us security would return, but where is the security?" asked Hamid, 46, who lives a few hundred metres (yards) from the foreign ministry compound.

Major General Qassim Atta, the spokesman for the Iraqi Army's Baghdad operations, blamed an alliance of Baathists loyal to Saddam and religious extremists for the attacks.

He added that security forces had arrested two senior Al-Qaeda leaders in western Baghdad, and that a truck carrying one tonne of explosives had been intercepted near a hospital in the centre of the capital.

The explosion near the foreign ministry sent plumes of smoke and dust into the air, leaving a crater three metres (10 feet) deep and 10 metres wide filled with the twisted wreckage of dozens of cars and several charred corpses.

The walls of the ministry compound were destroyed and its facade badly damaged, while cars were buckled and burnt for hundreds of metres. Blast walls surrounding the compound were removed two months ago.

Just minutes earlier, another truck bomb had exploded outside the finance ministry, ripping through the building and also destroying part of a nearby bridge, ministry officials said.

The finance ministry said the refrigeration truck that exploded in what it said was a suicide attack had been carrying 1.5 tonnes of explosives and ball bearings "to cause maximum casualties."

It said 13 civil servants in the ministry building had died in the attack.

A car bomb meanwhile hit a market in western Baghdad, while two mortar bombs landed in the Green Zone -- an area of foreign embassies and government offices -- and one exploded outside, a security official said.

Environment Minister Narmin Othman Hasan told AFP that a mortar landed outside her house in the Green Zone, slightly damaging it.

The attacks -- shortly before Muslims are due to begin the holy fasting month of Ramadan later this week -- brought the city to a standstill as security forces fired off rounds into the air and closed roads, while ambulances struggled to make progress amid traffic jams.

It was the bloodiest day in Iraq since February 1, 2008, when bombs at Baghdad pet markets killed 98 people.

Recent attacks in the capital have appeared to target various ethnic groups in what is seen as a bid to reignite the sectarian violence which engulfed Iraq in 2006 and 2007.

Despite a reduction in violence across Iraq in the past year, attacks on security forces and civilians remain common in Baghdad, the restive northern city of Mosul and in the ethnically divided oil city of Kirkuk.

 US Vice President Joe Biden called Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki Wednesday to condemn a wave of bombings that killed 95 people in Baghdad, the White House said.

But the United States said it would go ahead with plans to withdraw US forces from the country over the next two years despite signs of rising violence since US troops pulled back from Iraqi cities.

Source: AFP

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