Two suicide car bombers struck a crowded area outside a state-run bank yesterday in Baghdad, killing nearly 30 people in the latest attack targeting a high-profile part of the capital.
The blast, which tore the glass facade off the three-storey Trade Bank of Iraq building, leaving chairs and desks exposed, occurred shortly after 11am as the area was packed with people at the start of the local work week.
Iraqi officials initially said the explosives-packed cars were parked a few hundred metres apart, but later said the attacks were staged by suicide bombers.
Security forces swarmed through the debris while cleanup crews used forklifts to move the charred wrecks of several vehicles destroyed by the blast.
The chairman of the Trade Bank of Iraq – which was established to facilitate international trade and reconstruction efforts after the 2003 US-led invasion – said five guards were among the dead and six others were wounded.
Hussein al-Uzri blamed insurgents trying to undermine Iraq's progress and promised they would fail.
"The work of building Iraq's economic strength ... goes on uninterrupted, as does the work of the bank, which will be open for business tomorrow," he said in a statement after yesterday's attack.
Persistent bombings in Baghdad and surrounding areas have raised fears that insurgents are stepping up attacks in a bid to foment unrest by exploiting the political deadlock following inconclusive March 7 parliamentary elections.
Last week, suspected al-Qa'ida in Iraq militants stormed the central bank and exchanged gunfire with Iraqi security forces in a standoff that brought part of the capital to a standstill.
The ability of the insurgents to penetrate areas with tight security also has raised questions about the readiness of Iraqi forces to take over their own security less than three months before all American combat troops are to leave the country, the first step toward a full withdrawal by the end of next year.
"The irresponsible acts of those politicians have encouraged al-Qa'ida sleeper cells to resume work and strike again," said Ahmed Abdullah, an engineer in the Electricity Ministry. "Ordinary Iraqis are paying the price of the political struggle in Baghdad."
The bank is in a commercial area surrounding Nisoor Square that includes a government agency that issues national identity cards, and the telephone exchange building.
"It was a tremendous explosion that shook the building and shattered all the glass. We were all in a panic and left our offices immediately," one bank employee who was working at the time of the attack said, declining to give his name for security reasons.