Iraq blast targets government, elections

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The death toll from Sunday's massive suicide car bomb attacks in Baghdad has risen to 155, with another 500 wounded, the Aswat al-Iraq news agency has reported.

The enormous blasts targeted three government buildings - the Justice Ministry, the Ministry of Public Works, and the Baghdad provincial council, where 10 members of Parliament were attending a meeting. All three buildings were destroyed. The bombings, the deadliest in two years, took place along a road filled with traffic and set more than 150 vehicles on fire, incinerating entire families.

The attacks occurred just before Iraqi political leaders were to meet to work out a compromise on a disputed election law that is needed to allow national elections to happen on time in January. The meeting was held but did not reach an agreement and will re-convene next Monday.

The elections are seen as essential to ensuring the scheduled U.S. military pullout goes forward.

In Iraq, the bloody attacks were widely blamed on remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime and other elements seeking to destabilize the country.

"They are targeting the government and the political process in the country," an Iraqi Army spokesman, Maj. General Qassim Atta, told reporters.

"It's about the election," Salman, a Kurdish man looking for a car left behind by his injured brother, told a UK Times reporter. "It's a way of influencing politics."

The blasts yesterday underscored how violence in Iraq has changed its nature in the recent period.

Overall, violent attacks have dropped sharply compared to a year ago, and are different from the broad-scale sectarian violence that was rampant a year or two ago. Sunday's attacks fit into a new pattern targeting politicians, government officials and buildings, and police and security officers. Yesterday's bombings were the second major attack on key government buildings in the past few months. On Aug. 19, coordinated attacks now referred to as "Bloody Wednesday" destroyed the Foreign Ministry and Finance Ministry buildings in Baghdad, leaving more than 100 people dead and more than 1,000 wounded.

With the U.S. preparing to withdraw its troops from Iraq, January's national elections will set Iraq's direction for the post-occupation period. The aim of the violence now, many U.S. and Iraqi analysts say, is to undermine the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, hurt his chances of re-election in next January's vote, and at the same time to delay or disrupt that election if possible.

Many in Iraq have warned that violence would increase as the January elections approach. Iraqis say die-hard former Baathists are using the attacks as a bargaining chip, hoping to enlist the U.S. in their efforts to regain a political foothold. Some of these elements fear that with a U.S. withdrawal they will lose this kind of leverage.

In a strongly worded statement yesterday, the Iraqi Communist Party called the attackers "professional killers and criminals."

"In addition to inflicting harm upon the Iraqi people, the aim is once again to sabotage the ongoing political process in our country, and to create the conditions for its reversal and to return Iraq to the rule of dictatorship and tyranny," the statement said.

In yesterday's attack, initial investigations suggested that each suicide vehicle was loaded with more than 1,500 pounds of explosives, the UK Times reported. The blasts were so powerful that they swept away protective blast walls, blew out windows on surrounding buildings and tore deep craters into roads, shattering water mains. The magnitude of the explosives indicated that these were highly organized and well-financed operations.

"It is no coincidence that this new crime of genocide, that has been designed and implemented to spread death and destruction on the widest possible scale, has targeted the headquarters of two ministries and the offices of Baghdad's provincial council," the Iraqi Communist Party said. "It is also no coincidence that the people, who are the victims of the barbaric series of crimes by terrorist gangs, are holding the remnants of Saddam's Baath party, al-Qaeda, militias and organized crime responsible."

Iraqis charge that some of these groups are getting help from surrounding countries who want to keep Iraq in turmoil.

Maliki sent a message to the UN Secretary General and the Security Council demanding the "formation of an international panel to investigate the assaults."

Despite the new bloodshed, the Communist Party urged Iraq's political forces to "overcome their differences and live up to the challenges, and to accelerate the resolution of outstanding political issues, notably the issue of the election law."

This is the only way to rid the country of foreign occupation and build a democratic Iraqi state, the party says.

Photo: A scene from the massive bomb attack at the Ministry of Justice in Baghdad, Oct. 25. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

 

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