Baghdad: Two suicide bombs tore through Baghdad on Sunday, killing 132 people, wounding more than 500 and leaving mangled bodies and cars on the streets in one of Iraq’s deadliest days this year.
The two blasts shredded buildings and smoke billowed from the area near the Tigris River. The first bomb targeted the Justice Ministry and the second, minutes later, was aimed at the nearby provincial government building, police said.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s office said that the bombs were meant to sow chaos in Iraq similar to attacks on 19 August against the finance and foreign ministries, and were aimed at stopping an election in January.
“It is the same black hands who are covered in the blood of the Iraqi people,” a statement from Maliki’s office said. “They want to cause chaos in the nation, hinder the political process and prevent the parliamentary election.”
US President Barack Obama said the bombings were outrageous and the White House said he had called Maliki and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to pledge 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,” Obama said in a statement.
Violence has fallen since US-backed tribal sheikhs helped wrest control from al Qaeda and Washington sent extra troops.
But attacks are still common in a nation trying to rebuild from years of conflict and prepare for the election at the same time as US forces start to withdraw.
Officials have blamed unnamed neighbours for not stopping the attacks -- a reference to Iraqi complaints that Syria provides a safe haven for former Baathists while citizens of other Sunni Muslim states help fund the insurgency in Iraq. Iran, meanwhile, has been accused of funding and arming Shi’ite militia.
“The neighboring and distant countries should immediately refrain, forever, from harboring, financing and facilitating forces that openly proclaim their hostility to the Iraqi state,” Talabani said in a statement.
Attacks could rise in the run-up to the election -- the second national vote since U.S. troops invaded in 2003 -- as forces in and around Iraq jockey for influence over the world’s third largest oil reserves.
Some lawmakers criticized the security forces for failing to stop the attack. Government officials blamed the bombings on al Qaeda or remnants of former leader Saddam Hussein’s Baath party.
The area near the provincial building was flooded and fire fighters pulled charred and torn corpses off the streets. Burned cars piled up nearby. Workers on cranes combed the broken facade of the Justice Ministry, pulling out bodies wrapped in blankets.
“I don’t know how I’m still alive. The explosion destroyed everything. Nothing is still in its place,” shop owner Hamid Saadi told Reuters by telephone from near the Justice Ministry.
US forces provided forensics teams and bomb experts.
Police sources said the bombs were carried in vans driven by suicide bombers while others said a truck and car were used.
The al-Mansour hotel, which houses the Chinese embassy and several foreign media groups, was also damaged.
US officials say the attacks are aimed at reigniting the sectarian conflict that gripped Iraq after the US-led invasion that deposed Saddam, or at undermining confidence in Maliki before the parliamentary poll.
Maliki is widely expected to campaign on improved security. The attacks were launched as his government tries to sign multi-billion dollar crude deals, expected to turn Iraq into the world’s third largest oil producer.
The bombings raise doubts about the Iraqi forces’ ability to take over overall security from US soldiers who pulled out of Iraqi city centers in June ahead of the complete withdrawal from the country by the end of 2011.
“This breach is a big failure of the security forces who are responsible, along with the security officials, for what happened,” said Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer, who heads the parliamentary bloc of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, one of Maliki’s main Shi’ite rivals in the coming election.