Baghdad steps up security after bombs kill 155
The country's worst attacks in more than two years on Sunday targeted the Justice Ministry and Baghdad Provincial Administration in the heart of the capital, calling into question Iraq's ability to protect itself as it prepares for January elections and the U.S. military withdrawal.
Fear of more deadly attacks, especially in the run-up to crucial January elections, turned into anger over the government's failure to keep the country secure.
"Today, we came to work despite the fear inside us," said Siham Abdul-Karim, 49, an employee of the Culture Ministry located near the site of the bombings and surrounded by police checkpoints on Monday. "We all wonder how could car bombs could reach these institutions."
There have been no claims of responsibility, but massive car bombs have been the hallmark of Sunni insurgents seeking to overthrow the country's Shiite-dominated government. It was the second deadly bombing targeting government offices in the area since August, when coordinated blasts against two ministries killed more than 100 people.
The death toll rose to 155 on Monday as Baghdad residents buried the dead. About 500 people were injured, authorities said.
The initial investigation suggested the vehicles, each packed with thousands of pounds of explosives, might have passed through some security checkpoints before hitting their destination, said Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for the city's operations command center. Authorities have said they are also checking security cameras in the area.
Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani said 76 people have been arrested so far, but he did not provide information on who they were or how they are believed to be connected to the horrific crimes, which took place just hundreds of yards from the heavily fortified Green Zone.
"This is a terrorist act," al-Bolani said. He called on all the political forces to cooperate and assist the Iraqi security forces.
The street where the blasts occurred had just been reopened to vehicle traffic six months ago. Shortly after, blast walls were repositioned to allow traffic closer to the government buildings — all measures hailed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as a sign that safety was returning to the city.
Al-Maliki has staked his political reputation and re-election bid on his ability to bring peace to the country but as grief turned into anger on Monday people questioned the government's recent security policies — ominous signs for al-Maliki's re-election bid.
"This explosion made people furious," said Ahmed Hassan, an employee at the Ministry of Education. "People will not re-elect this government."
The pickup truck that exploded near the Justice Ministry was carrying 2,205 pounds (1,000 kilograms) of explosives, the initial investigation found. The second pickup truck that went off near the Baghdad Provincial Administration building, was carrying 1,543 pounds (700 kilograms) of explosives.
The explosives were attached to the vehicles and hidden below the seats, al-Moussawi said.
Iraqi health and security officials confirmed the death toll. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information to the media.
The coordinated bombings were the deadliest since a series of massive truck bombs in northern Iraq killed nearly 500 villagers from the minority Yazidi sect in August 2007. In Baghdad itself, it was the worst attack since a series of suicide bombings against Shiite neighborhoods in April 2007 killed 183.
Also Monday, a car bomb at a police checkpoint near the holy city of Karbala in southern Iraq killed at least four people, Iraqi security officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.