BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqi forces were on high alert in Baghdad Monday after 30 people were killed in bomb attacks on foreign embassies blamed on delays in the formation of a new government after elections a month ago.
The suicide vehicle blasts, which a minister said bore the signature of Al-Qaeda, occurred within minutes of each other Sunday.
More than 200 people were wounded in the attacks which targeted regional and European embassies in the capital.
There was a heavy security presence on Baghdad’s streets, with tighter measures at traffic checkpoints, especially at the sites of the explosions near the Iranian, Egyptian and German embassies.
The attacks came as Iraq’s political parties were battling to form a coalition government, with none of the four main blocs having the required seats to form a parliamentary majority on their own.
“This is a political attack, aimed at derailing the process, sending a message that the terrorists are still in business,” Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told AFP.
“Because of the vacuum of forming the next government, they wanted to send that message.”
In the aftermath of the blasts, sitting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose coalition finished second in the March 7 elections, held a meeting with the national security council, in which unspecified measures were taken, a statement from the premier’s office said.
Maliki’s State of Law Alliance finished with 89 seats in the 325-member parliament, two fewer than ex-premier Iyad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc.
Allawi has accused Iran of seeking to prevent him becoming prime minister again by inviting all major parties except his secular bloc to Tehran.
Security officials had warned that protracted coalition building could give insurgents an opportunity to further destabilise the country.
Two of the explosions were suicide attacks against the Egyptian and Iranian embassies, while a third struck an intersection near the German, Spanish and Syrian missions.
Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim Atta said a bomb-laden car had also been intercepted in Masbah, central Baghdad, apparently heading towards the headquarters of police tasked with diplomatic protection.
Its driver was arrested and the device was defused, he said.
“It looks like (Al-Qaeda),” Zebari said. “I really feel it’s early, however, unless we ensure the investigation is complete” to say who was behind the blasts, he added.
“They bear the same marks of previous attacks, in the timing, the targeting, the simultaneous attacks on different targets in different places to have maximum impact,” Zebari said.
He was referring to co-ordinated bombings in August, October, December and January that killed more than 400 people.
In a statement, Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi called for a full review of security measures being taken in the capital, and said an investigation was required into the continued use of a sonar bomb detector used at checkpoints across Baghdad that has been widely panned as useless.
Said Mohammed, who was close to the blast at the Egyptian embassy, said guards had tried to prevent the attack.
“Three security guards shouted at the truck to stop moving, and opened fire on the driver,” said Mohammed, before turning angrily to nearby Iraqi army officers and shouting: “How did the truck get here?”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin she was “profoundly affected” by the blasts, while the Arab League said that they sought to destabilise Iraq at a “delicate moment.”
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner condemned the bombings as “barbaric”.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton condemned the attacks, saying in a statement that it was important that Iraq’s political parties and leaders “continue to strengthen Iraq’s democratic institutions.”
Although the frequency of attacks has dropped significantly since peaking in 2006 and 2007, figures released on Thursday showed 367 Iraqis were killed in violence last month — the highest number this year.