Suicide bombers carrying the credentials of senior police walked into the interior ministry in Baghdad yesterday and killed at least 28 people.
The attack came as the US ambassador and Iraq's Interior and Defence ministers attended a nearby ceremony to mark National Police Day in the city centre. The two blasts were followed by mortar rounds. The ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, the Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, and the Defence Minister, Sadoun al-Dulaimi, heard the explosions as they watched a march by members of the security forces.
The building has become a symbolic target for Sunni insurgents, with the interior ministry accused of running Shia paramilitary death squads responsible for the torture and murder of suspects. Mr Jabr, a former commander of the Badr Brigade, a Shia militia, and whose sister was kidnapped last week, has been linked with the group claims he strongly denies.
One of the suicide bombers wore the uniform of a police lieutenant-colonel and the other that of a major. Both had security passes which allowed them through the main checkpoint. But a police guard became suspicious of one of the men's top-heavy clothing and, after challenging him, opened fire, detonating the explosives packed into his vest. At that point, the second bomber blew himself up.
More than 20 people were wounded, few of whom were expected to survive. The casualties were almost all policemen.
"The guards had been taught to shoot at suspected suicide bombers on the head, but this time one of the bombers was shot in the chest and his bomb went off," said a senior police officer. "But much more worrying is the fact that the men had genuine high-security police passes and could get into a building such as this."
In a separate development yesterday US soldiers raided the offices of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars in Baghdad. Explosives were used to blow open doors. The Iraqi Accordance Front, the main Sunni political coalition, urged its followers to demonstrate against the "sinful assault".
Meanwhile in the US, the Pentagon acknowledged that the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, turned down a request in May 2004 from Paul Bremer, the US diplomat governing Iraq at the time, for hundreds of thousands more US troops during a particularly violent period in the war. April 2004, the month before Mr Bremer made his request, was the deadliest of the war to date for US forces.