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127 killed in spate of Baghdad blasts

Iraqis gather near destroyed cars as firemen and rescue workers inspect the site of a bomb blast outside a criminal court building in west Baghdad's Mansur district on December 8, 2009. Five powerful car bombs rocked Baghdad, killing 127 people, including women and students, and wounding 448 in the third co-ordinated massacre to devastate the capital since August. Photo courtesy AFP.Iraqi civil servant cheats death twice in four months
Baghdad (AFP) Dec 8, 2009 - An Iraqi civil servant told on Tuesday of how he cheated death twice in the space of four months in massive bomb attacks targeting the finance ministry in Baghdad. Hussein Alwan found himself in Medical City hospital on Tuesday after a suicide car bomber hit the finance ministry's makeshift offices in Shorjah in the city centre in the morning. "This is the second time God has saved my life," the 42-year-old said from his hospital bed. "On August 19 I didn't go to work, and today the explosion happened while I was on my way to the ministry." Massive twin suicide truck bombings in August struck both the finance and foreign ministries, killing around 100 people and badly damaging the two buildings. At the time, the finance ministry was based in the Midan district, but in the wake of the blast it relocated to offices in Shorjah.

Tuesday's car bomb went off at around 10:30 am, badly damaging the finance ministry's temporary home, and was so powerful that several nearby houses were completely destroyed. A total of 34 people were killed in the latest attack on the ministry, out of 127 dead overall from five co-ordinated attacks in Baghdad blamed on Al-Qaeda that marked one of the bloodiest days the capital has seen this year. The explosion left a crater two metres (6.5 feet) deep and five metres (16 feet) in diameter. "I was scared to death," said Alwan, his shirt in tatters and his face and body covered in blood and dirt. "I ran to look for my colleagues and my friends, and I helped move the bodies of four women colleagues in the ministry. "I'm still in shock, but thank God I am still alive."
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Dec 8, 2009
Five massive vehicle-borne bombs rocked Baghdad on Tuesday, killing 127 people, including women and students, and wounding hundreds in the third co-ordinated massacre to devastate the city since August.

The attacks undermined the government's claims of improved security and came hours before the war-torn country said its general election, the second since the US-led ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein, would be held in early March.

A senior security spokesman said the attacks -- four by suicide attackers in cars or minibuses targeting key government buildings -- bore "the touch of Al-Qaeda."

The United States, United Nations, Arab League and Britain led international condemnation, with UN chief Ban Ki-moon calling the bombings "horrendous" and "unacceptable."

One suicide bomber detonated his payload at a finance ministry office, another struck at a tunnel leading to the labour ministry and a third drove a four-wheel-drive car into a courthouse.

"The suicide bomber drove up to the court and the security forces tried to stop him by firing their Kalashnikovs, but they did not kill him before he exploded," police sergeant Emad Fadhil told AFP.

A fourth suicide bomber in a car struck a police patrol in Dora in southern Baghdad, causing 15 deaths, 12 of them students at a nearby technical college, an interior ministry official said.

Another car bomb hit interior ministry offices in central Baghdad.

The first explosion in the city centre was heard at 10:25 am (0725 GMT), another followed within seconds and a third came one minute later.

The courthouse bombing destroyed a large part of the building, with falling concrete killing several people, emergency workers said.

Mangled wrecks of cars, some flipped on their roofs, lined the street opposite the courthouse, and several parked vehicles were crushed by collapsed blast walls.

Near the finance ministry, several houses were completely destroyed and a two-metre (6.5-foot) deep crater marked the site of the explosion.

Tuesday's bombing was the third against the finance ministry since 2007.

Although no group has yet claimed responsibility, the timing of the blasts and the fact that three targeted government buildings suggested an Al-Qaeda operation.

The interior ministry official said 127 people had been killed and 448 wounded in the bombings.

"This has the touch of Al-Qaeda and the Baathists," Major General Qassim Atta, spokesman for security operations in Baghdad, told AFP, referring to the outlawed Baath party of now executed dictator Saddam.

Both groups were blamed for bloody attacks -- including truck bombings of the finance, foreign and justice ministries -- in Baghdad in August and October that killed more than 250 and punctured confidence in Iraq's security forces.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called Tuesday's attacks a "cowardly" attempt "to cause chaos... and hinder the election," and said they were deliberately timed to come after MPs on Sunday agreed on a new electoral law.

He blamed "foreign elements" who backed Al-Qaeda.

"Such attacks are war crimes," London-based rights group Amnesty International said in a statement.

In response to the blasts, parliament called for Maliki and Iraq's security ministers to answer MPs' questions in the Council of Representatives on Thursday.

Those caught up in the devastation described scenes of horror.

"I heard the sound of the explosion, I fainted, then I found myself on this bed covered with blood," Um Saeed, who was wounded in the face and arms by the courthouse blast, told AFP at a local hospital.

Jamal Amin, who works at a restaurant near the finance ministry, said: "I was standing in front of the restaurant. People started to shout, 'suicide bomber, suicide bomber!'

"I saw a mini-bus, and then the explosion happened and I lost consciousness. I woke up in the hospital."

An official at Medical City hospital said many of the 39 bodies they had received "had been blown apart."

Violence across Iraq dropped dramatically last month, with the fewest number of deaths in attacks recorded since the invasion in 2003. Official figures showed a total of 122 people were killed in November.

Both the Baghdad government and the US military have warned of a rise in attacks in the run-up to the election.

Presidential chief-of-staff Nasser al-Ani told Iraqi state television on Tuesday the election will be on March 7, after the presidency council said earlier that March 6 had been chosen as the date for the vote.

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