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Iraq on alert after deadly embassy blasts

(AFP)
Filed on April 5, 2010

Iraq’s security forces were on high alert Monday after three suicide car bombs targeting regional and European embassies rocked Baghdad, killing 30 people.

The attacks came as Iraq’s political parties struggled to form a government.

Incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose coalition finished second in the March 7 general election, held a meeting with Iraq’s national security council over Sunday’s blasts, a statement from his office said.

Officials said the near-simultaneous attacks, which a minister said bore the signature of Al-Qaeda, had also wounded 224 people.

Two 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),” Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told AFP.

“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.

The two bombs that battered the diplomatic western neighbourhood of Mansur were followed soon afterwards by a third huge explosion outside the Iranian embassy in central Baghdad.

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?”

“The explosion was really strong,” said taxi driver Abu Ahmed of the blast at the Iranian embassy, which caused no casualties among its staff.

“They never kill ministers, officials or heads of state. They kill taxi drivers, public employees and shopkeepers,” he added.

“How much longer will this last?”

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.”

“No terrorist attack should prevent Iraqis from achieving their fundamental right of a peaceful and normal life,” she said.

The attacks came as Iraqi political parties negotiate to form a government, nearly a month after an election that left none of the four main blocs with enough seats to form a 163-seat parliamentary majority on its own.

Former premier Iyad Allawi, whose bloc finished first in the election, 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.

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.


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