BAGHDAD (Reuters) – At least one bomb exploded on Sunday at an entrance to Iraq’s central bank, killing five people and sending a thick plume of smoke over Baghdad after setting the bank’s generator on fire, officials said.
Troops were immediately deployed to surround the central bank in case the attack, which wounded 20 people, was part of a plan to rob the institution of the huge piles of Iraqi dinars and U.S. dollars held in its vaults.
Recent weeks have seen a spurt of deadly gold market robberies and attacks by suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents as tensions simmer following an inconclusive election in March that produced no outright winner.
“We deployed security forces around the bank to prevent any attempt to rob the central bank,” said Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim al-Moussawi.
A police source said the attack, which took place a day before Iraq’s new parliament was due to hold its first session, involved up to four bombs. It was not initially apparent whether suicide bombers, car bombs or roadside bombs were used in the blasts which took place as bank employees were leaving work.
Overall violence in Iraq has fallen sharply since the height of sectarian bloodshed in 2006/07. But Sunni Islamist insurgents have sought to exploit the political uncertainty that followed the March 7 election to try to reignite broad sectarian warfare through bombings and assassinations.
The number of civilians killed in violence each month has climbed slowly but steadily since the March vote.
A cross-sectarian alliance heavily backed by the once dominant Sunni minority won the most seats, but the main Shi’ite factions have agreed to form the largest unified bloc in parliament, potentially giving them the muscle to claim the right to form a government.
Parliament convenes for the first time on Monday, more than three months after the election, but it is likely to still take weeks if not months for a deal on a government and a choice of prime minister.
The extended political vacuum coincides with a U.S. plan to end combat operations in August ahead of a full U.S. troop withdrawal by the end of 2011.