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Bloodiest attack in Baghdad in months


By Saad Shalash

Baghdad - Twin car bombs targeting two government buildings killed at least 75 people and wounded 460 in Baghdad on Sunday, police and health officials said, in the bloodiest attack in the Iraqi capital for two months.

Violence has fallen in Iraq since U.S.-backed tribal sheikhs helped wrest control from al Qaeda militants and Washington sent extra troops but attacks are still common in a nation trying to rebuild from conflict, sanctions and strife.

The two blasts shook buildings and smoke billowed from the area near the Tigris River. The first blast targeted the Justice Ministry and the second, minutes later, was aimed at the nearby provincial government building, police said.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said he was in a hotel when the bombs went off and that he and others around him were showered in shattered glass. He said he suspected al Qaeda militants or remnants of Saddam Hussein's former government were behind the attacks.

"The initial analysis shows that it bears the fingerprints of al Qaeda and the Baathists," said Dabbagh, who was at the al-Mansour hotel at the time.

The hotel houses the Chinese embassy and several foreign media organisations. None reported serious injuries.

The street near the provincial government building was flooded with water and firefighters pulled charred and mangled bodies off the streets. Burnt-out cars were piled up nearby.

Emergency workers on cranes searched through the shattered facade of the Justice Ministry and pulled out corpses 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.

A Health Ministry official said Baghdad's hospitals had received 50 bodies and 460 wounded.

LAPSES?

U.S. military officials say attacks like these are aimed at reigniting the sectarian conflict that gripped the nation after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that deposed Saddam, or at undermining confidence in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki before a parliamentary poll next year.

Maliki is expected to run on improved security conditions throughout the nation.

Baghdad Security Spokesman Major General Qassim al-Moussawi declined to speculate on who was behind the attack.

Sunday's blasts hit two months after bombings on Aug. 19 targeting the foreign and finance ministries that killed almost 100 people and wounded hundreds more.

That attack prompted a rare admission of lapses by Iraqi security forces. Most of the victims of the Aug. 19 attacks were cut down in a blizzard of broken glass.

The attacks raise doubts about the Iraqi forces' ability to take over overall security from U.S. soldiers who pulled out of Iraqi city centres in June ahead of a complete withdrawal from the country by the end of 2011. - Reuters


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