At Least 127 Dead in Baghdad Bombings

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Five massive vehicle-borne bombs rocked Baghdad on Tuesday, killing 127 people, including women and students, and wounding hundreds in the third coordinated massacre to devastate the city since August.

The attacks shattered a month of calm in the Iraqi capital and came hours before an official said the war-torn country's general election, the second since the US-led ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein, would be held on March 6.

A senior security spokesman said the attacks -- four carried out by suicide attackers driving cars or minibuses, and targeting key government buildings -- bore "the touch of Al-Qaeda."

The United States and United Nations led international condemnation, with UN chief Ban Ki-moon labelling the "horrendous" bombings as "unacceptable."

One suicide bomber detonated his payload at a finance ministry office, another attacker struck at a tunnel leading to the labor ministry and a third drove a four-wheel-drive car into a court building.

"The suicide bomber drove up to the court and the security forces tried to stop him by firing their Kalashnikovs, but they did not kill him before he exploded," police sergeant Emad Fadhil told AFP.

A fourth suicide bomber in a car struck a police patrol in Dora in southern Baghdad, causing 15 deaths, 12 of them students at a nearby technical college, an interior ministry official said.

Another car bomb hit offices of the interior ministry in central Baghdad.

The first explosion in the city center was heard at 10:25 am (0725 GMT), another followed within seconds and a third came one minute later.

The courthouse bombing destroyed a large part of the building, with falling concrete killing several people, emergency service workers at the scene said.

Mangled wrecks of cars, some flipped on their roofs, lined the street opposite the courthouse, and several vehicles in the parking lot were crushed by collapsed blast walls.

Near the finance ministry, meanwhile, several houses were completely destroyed and a two-meter (6.5-foot) deep crater marked the site of the explosion.

Although no group has yet claimed responsibility, the timing of the blasts and the fact that three of them targeted government buildings bore the hallmarks of an Al-Qaeda operation.

The interior ministry official said 127 people had been killed and 448 wounded in the bombings, with the finger of blame pointed at Al-Qaeda. Related article: Recent bloodshed in Iraq.

"This has the touch of Al-Qaeda and the Baathists," Major General Qassim Atta, spokesman for security operations in Baghdad, told AFP, referring to the outlawed Baath party of now executed dictator Saddam.

Both groups were blamed for bloody attacks -- including truck bombings outside the finance, foreign and justice ministries -- in Baghdad in August and October that killed more than 250 people and punctured confidence in the Iraqi security forces.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called Tuesday's attacks a "cowardly" attempt "to cause chaos… and hinder the election," and said they were deliberately timed to come after MPs on Sunday agreed on a new law governing the election.

He blamed "foreign elements" who backed Al-Qaeda.

Those caught up in the devastation described scenes of horror.

"I heard the sound of the explosion, I fainted, then I found myself on this bed covered with blood," Um Saeed, who was wounded in the face and arms by the court blast, told AFP at a local hospital, her clothes covered in blood.

Jamal Amin, who works at a restaurant near the finance ministry, said: "I was standing in front of the restaurant. People started to shout, 'suicide bomber, suicide bomber!'

"I saw a mini-bus, and then the explosion happened and I lost consciousness. I woke up in the hospital."

An official at Medical City hospital said many of the 39 bodies they had received "had been blown apart."

Violence across Iraq dropped dramatically last month, with the fewest number of deaths in attacks recorded since the invasion in 2003. Official figures showed a total of 122 people were killed in November.

Both the Baghdad government and the US military have warned of a rise in attacks in the run-up to the election, however. Related article: Britain condemns Baghdad attacks.

The presidency council, comprising President Jalal Talabani and his two deputies, has yet to announce the date officially, but Qassim al-Abboudi of Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission said March 6 had been chosen.


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