BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqi security forces were on high alert Monday after massive bombs turned central Baghdad into a bloodbath, as political leaders pressed on with efforts to reach accord on a key election law.
The near-simultaneous vehicle bombings targeting government offices on Sunday killed around 100 people, wounded 500 and left body parts and charred corpses scattered across the streets of the capital.
The attacks were the deadliest in the violence-wracked country in more than two years and were blamed by government officials on Al-Qaeda and supporters of executed dictator Saddam Hussein’s banned Baath Party.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki chaired an emergency meeting of the National Security Council late on Sunday to discuss the attacks with his military and police chiefs, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement.
The prime minister had soon after the blasts vowed that the attacks would not affect the political process or parliamentary elections due in January.
“We promise to bring justice to the enemies of the Iraqi people, who want to spread chaos across the country and block the political process and the holding of elections,” he said.
Several roads in central Baghdad remained closed on Monday, with a heavy security presence on the capital’s streets, leaving many commuters having to walk part of the way to work. Related article: Iraq’s bloodshed
Dozens of Iraqi army humvees lined the roads while new checkpoints were established.
Traffic was gridlocked outside a perimeter established around the bomb sites near the ministry of justice and the Baghdad provincial government offices, with few cars allowed in.
One of the attackers exploded a truck bomb at a busy intersection near the ministry of justice, while the other detonated a car bomb opposite the nearby provincial government building.
The bombs killed 99 people, a senior health ministry official told AFP on Monday, a figure confirmed by Dabbagh and Major General Qassim Atta, spokesman for the Iraqi army’s Baghdad operations.
An interior ministry official, however, put the death toll at 155.
Atta said that the truck was carrying one tonne of explosives and the car was packed with 700 kilograms (more than 1,500 pounds) of explosives.
The US military, which has around 120,000 soldiers stationed in Iraq, “provided explosive ordnance disposal teams and forensics personnel to assist with the investigation following the attacks,” a military spokesman said.
Maliki, meanwhile, was to meet on Monday with President Jalal Talabani and parliament speaker Iyad al-Samarrai over a stalled election law amid growing concern that polls slated for January 16 will have to be delayed.
Their discussions follow a high-level political meeting held on Sunday which concluded without agreement being reached on the law, which would require parties to publish full lists of their candidates, in contrast to the current closed list system whereby voters see only party names.
US President Barack Obama telephoned during the Sunday meeting to express his condolences over the bombings, and also urged lawmakers to reach resolution quickly, an MP who participated in the discussions told AFP.
A major hurdle to the law’s passage has been the lack of agreement over the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, which the Kurds have long demanded be incorporated in their autonomous region in the north despite the opposition of its Arab and Turkmen communities.
The parliamentary impasse has triggered US concern that its troops may have to stay on in numbers into next year.
As part of a Baghdad-Washington security agreement, US combat troops must leave Iraq by the end of August and all American forces must withdraw by the end of 2011.
Along with Obama, several other countries expressed their condemnation of Sunday’s attacks — NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen described them as “reprehensible”, while the European Union’s Swedish presidency noted its disgust.
Iran joined the condemnation, with a foreign ministry official saying they were trying to “wreck stability and the process of reinforcing democratic structures.”
The explosions were a grim reminder of deadly truck bombings which shook the ministries of foreign affairs and finance on August 19, when at least 95 people were killed, attacks Baghdad blamed on Baathists in Syria.