IRAQ

Scores killed in Baghdad double car bombing

At least 132 people have been killed and more than 600 wounded when two powerful car bombs targeting the justice ministry and the nearby governor's office went off in central Baghdad on Sunday.

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REUTERS - 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, police said.

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 years of conflict, sanctions and strife.

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.

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Peter Harding, Director of the International Crisis Group

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office said that the bombs were meant to sow chaos in Iraq similar to attacks on Aug. 19 against the finance and foreign ministries, and were aimed at stopping a parliamentary election in January.

"It is the same black hands (as the Aug. 19 attack) who are covered in the blood of the Iraqi people," said the statement from the prime minister's office.

"They want to cause chaos in the nation, hinder the political process and prevent the parliamentary election."

Maliki, who went to the bomb site, is widely expected to run on improved security. The attacks were launched as his government tries to sign multi-billion dollar oil deals, expected to turn Iraq into the world's third largest crude producer.

Government officials said the bombings were likely the work of al Qaeda or remnants of Saddam Hussein's former Baath party.

They criticised unnamed regional countries 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 to fund the insurgency in Iraq.

Lapses

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

Relief workers on cranes searched 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.

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 although no serious injuries were reported there.

U.S. officials say the attacks are aimed at reigniting the sectarian conflict that gripped Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that deposed Saddam, or at undermining confidence in Maliki before the parliamentary poll next year.

Bombings in August -- which Iraq said were perpetrated by al Qaeda-linked Baathists trained in Syria -- 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.
 

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