BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqi security forces were on high alert on Monday, a day after twin suicide vehicle bombs blamed on Al-Qaeda killed 99 people in Baghdad, provoking widespread international condemnation.
The near-simultaneous attacks targeting government offices in the centre of the capital were the deadliest in the violence-wracked country in more than two years. More than 700 people were wounded.
|An Iraqi man is lifted off the ground as he grieves following a suicide bombing outside the Baghdad Provincial Governorate in central Baghdad on October 25 (AFP photo)|
US soldiers were called in to assist with the investigation into the bombings, as Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki pledged that the perpetrators would be brought to justice.
One of the attackers exploded a truck bomb at a busy intersection near the justice and municipalities ministries, while the other detonated a car bomb opposite the nearby Baghdad provincial government offices.
Shortly after the attacks, Maliki visited the site of the provincial government attack, where he spoke to officials and security officers.
"These cowardly terrorist attacks must not affect the determination of the Iraqi people to continue their struggle against the remnants of the dismantled regime and Al-Qaeda terrorists," Maliki said in a later statement.
He said the attacks would not affect the political process or parliamentary elections due in January, and promised to punish those behind the bombings. Related article: Iraq's bloodshed
US President Barack Obama led international condemnation of Sunday's attacks and offered his condolences by telephone to both Maliki and President Jalal Talabani.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen condemned as "reprehensible" the attacks, saying in a statement: "On behalf of NATO, I strongly condemn the bombing that occurred today in Baghdad, which caused huge loss of innocent life."
The European Union's Swedish presidency expressed its disgust, while France offered its "full solidarity" and Britain said the attacks had "no justification".
Iran joined the condemnation. "These terrorist actions aim to wreck stability and the process of reinforcing democratic structures," a foreign ministry official said.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh and Major General Qassim Atta, spokesman for the Iraqi army's Baghdad operations, both said 99 people had been killed in the attacks.
Atta added that the truck was carrying one tonne of explosives and the car was packed with 700 kilograms (more than 1,500 pounds) of explosives.
The toll was the highest in a coordinated attack in Iraq since four truck bombings on August 14, 2007, killed more than 400 people in two Kurdish villages.
The US military, which has around 120,000 soldiers stationed in Iraq, "provided explosive ordnance disposal teams and forensics personnel to assist with the investigation following the attacks," a military spokesman said in an email.
Two American security contractors were among the wounded in the blasts, a US embassy spokeswoman said in a statement.
The explosions were a grim reminder of deadly truck bombings which shook the ministries of foreign affairs and finance on August 19, when at least 95 people were killed.
Baghdad blamed those attacks on supporters of the Baath party, whom it says were given safe haven in neighbouring Syria, dramatically damaging ties between the countries.
Sunday's twin bombings came ahead of a meeting of senior Iraqi political leaders over a stalled election law, amid growing concerns that the country's January 16 election will have to be delayed.
Prospects for consensus appeared grim after the meeting concluded without agreement, and Maliki is to hold further discussions with Talabani and parliament speaker Iyad al-Samarrai on Monday.