- Associated Press - Sunday, June 20, 2010

BAGHDAD (AP) — A double suicide car bombing tore through a crowded commercial district near a state-run bank Sunday in Baghdad, killing at least 28 people in the second strike to hit a major financial institution in a week.

The attack added weight to warnings that insurgents would try to foment unrest as deadlocked politicians squabble over forming a new government more than three months after inconclusive national elections.

The bombers drove two cars packed with nearly 180 pounds of ammonium nitrate toward the gates of the Trade Bank of Iraq building and detonated the explosives after striking the blast walls protecting the building, said Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, the main Iraqi military spokesman for Baghdad.

The nearly simultaneous blasts knocked the windows out of the three-story building, leaving chairs and desks exposed. They occurred shortly after 11 a.m. as the area was packed with people at the start of the work week in Iraq.

Security forces swarmed through the debris while cleanup crews used forklifts to move the charred wreckage of several vehicles.

Gen. al-Moussawi said at least 18 people were killed and 42 wounded. But three Iraqi police officials and a doctor at the Yarmouk Hospital, where many victims were taken, put the toll at 28 killed and 57 wounded. Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the chaotic aftermath of bombings in Iraq.

The twin bombings capped a week in which about 100 people were killed in bomb blasts and shootings nationwide, including at least 26 who died in a commando-style assault against the central bank in Baghdad last Sunday. An al Qaeda in Iraq front group, the Islamic State of Iraq, claimed responsibility for that attack, saying it targeted the institution responsible for funneling “oil money and the stolen wealth of Muslims” to the West.

Sectarian bloodshed that pushed the country to the brink of civil war in 2006-07 has dropped sharply after a series of U.S.-Iraqi offensives, a Sunni revolt against al Qaeda and a Shi’ite militia cease-fire. But Iraqis still face near-daily attacks.

Many are venting their anger at politicians for failing to choose a prime minister and form a government, even though the new parliament was seated last week. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been acting in a caretaker role as he battles to keep his job after a rival Sunni-backed political bloc won a narrow victory in the March 7 parliamentary vote.

The head of the Iraqiya bloc, Ayad Allawi, has warned that more violence could ensue if the Sunnis who backed him feel sidelined by a Shi’ite alliance between Mr. al-Maliki’s party and a hard-line religious group.

Ahmed Abdullah, an engineer in the Electricity Ministry, said bickering politicians “have encouraged al Qaeda sleeper cells to resume work and strike again.”

“Ordinary Iraqis are paying the price of the political struggle in Baghdad,” he said.

Hassan al-Janabi, a 44-year-old hotel employee in Baghdad, said he has altered his routine to avoid crowded areas and rush-hour traffic, which have been popular targets for insurgents seeking to maximize casualties.

“I believe the deteriorating security situation is connected to the political struggle and the fight between politicians over power and government,” he said. “I think that attacks will increase because regional countries will increase their interference in Iraq after the upcoming withdrawal of U.S. forces.”

The ability of insurgents to penetrate areas with tight security has raised questions about the readiness of Iraqi forces to take over their own security less than three months before all American combat troops are to leave the country, the first step toward a full withdrawal by the end of next year.

The Trade Bank of Iraq is in a commercial area surrounding Nisoor Square that includes a government agency that issues national identification cards and the telephone exchange building. Established after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the bank is at the forefront of efforts to attract foreign investment.

Bank Chairman Hussein al-Uzri said five guards were among the dead and six others were wounded. He blamed the attack on insurgents trying to undermine Iraq’s progress and promised they would fail.

“The work of building Iraq’s economic strength … goes on uninterrupted, as does the work of the bank, which will be open for business tomorrow,” he said in a statement Sunday.

In other violence, police and morgue officials said the decomposed bodies of six women and a man were found buried in the backyard of a deserted house in the religiously mixed Zayouna neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. The seven victims apparently were killed two to three months ago, the officials said.

Iraqi women frequently are killed by religious extremists who accuse them of behavior deemed un-Islamic.

Two people were killed in a roadside bombing targeting the convoy of the police chief in Duluiyah, a former insurgent stronghold north of Baghdad, although the police chief was not harmed.

Hospital officials also said a man wounded after police opened fire at a protest over power cuts in the southern oil hub of Basra had died, raising the number of demonstrators killed to two. The violence Saturday highlighted growing public anger over a lack of basic services in Iraq.

The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information to the media.

Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin, Hamid Ahmed and Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.

 

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