At least 41 people were killed and 237 wounded Sunday in three suicide car bombings targeting the Iranian and German embassies and the Egyptian Consulate in Iraq in a span of 30 minutes.
The attacks, which Iraqi government officials blamed on the Sunni Arab extremist group Al Qaeda in Iraq, came two days after unknown gunmen in uniforms massacred 25 people in a Sunni district south of Baghdad.
The bloodshed raises fears that the security situation could unravel before Iraq’s next government is formed, as armed groups and political parties look to exploit the uncertain period after last month’s national elections. The conditions are reminiscent of early 2006 when Al Qaeda in Iraq took advantage of the transition between elected governments to blow up a major Shiite Muslim shrine and ignite a civil war between the country’s Shiite majority and its Sunni minority, which dominated the government of President Saddam Hussein before he was toppled in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
It also came as American forces prepare to draw down to 50,000 noncombat troops by the end of August and are less able to curb tensions between the sides because of their diminishing numbers.
Many of those killed Sunday were motorists and pedestrians near the consular buildings in the capital’s central governmental hub and an embassy row in west Baghdad.
No diplomats were reported wounded or killed.
None of the compounds were breached, but the force of the blast by the Egyptian Consulate tore down a wall. The deadliest attack was at the Iranian Embassy in central Baghdad, surrounded by key government institutions, where 23 were killed. Eighteen died in the twin bombings at the German and Egyptian missions, located about five minutes apart on Emirat Street in Baghdad’s Mansour district.
The road opposite the Iranian Embassy, a stately sand-colored building, was strewn with half a dozen burned vehicles, like a child’s messy train set. Caved-in jeeps and sedans, smeared with blood and tiny bits of flesh, were parked by concrete barriers, still plastered with faded posters of politicians from provincial elections a year ago, when Iraq’s mood was more optimistic. The packed district, located next to the fortified Green Zone, has been hit by suicide bombers at least four times since August.
A man climbed onto the husk of a minibus’ upturned blackened chassis and peered inside the remains for a piece of clothing, papers or signs of life.
“I am sure of it. I know this is his car,” the flushed man screamed as he looked for survivors. Tired policemen and bystanders pleaded with him to come down, saying that maybe it wasn’t his brother’s. Moments later, after descending from the wreck, he spotted a blackened clump of muscle near the windshield.
“A hand!” he screamed. “A hand!”
A policeman and two bystanders pulled him away. “No one was killed in the minibus. It was empty,” the policeman insisted. The man looked the officer in the eye and cried, “You are lying to me!”
The attack on the consulate left three Egyptian officials lightly wounded. An Iraqi policeman charged with security for the embassies of Germany, Syria, Morocco and Tunisia on Emirat Street was killed, along with two other police officers, according to Foreign Ministry officials.
At the German Embassy, a guard was killed, and three doctors at a clinic nearby were wounded.
Abu Nima, a guard at the clinic, was a friend of the embassy guard.
“I saw his young son crying and screaming. He wished that he was dead like his father,” Abu Nima said, blaming the nation’s political feuding for the violence.
“It’s part of the struggle to form the next government. They are attempting to impose pressure and instability as they race and fight for posts,” the night watchman said. “But unfortunately they oppress the poor people like us. We are the victims.”
Political infighting weighs heavy on the minds of most in Baghdad after the March 7 elections, in which former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s secular Iraqiya bloc won slightly more parliament seats than the Shiite-led slate of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki did.
Neither bloc has the necessary 163-seat majority in the 325-member parliament and Maliki has refused to accept the election results, alleging fraud. Raids have been carried out against several winning candidates from Iraqiya’s list. The situation has fed simmering religious tensions as Maliki’s backers have depicted him as the choice for the Shiite majority, while the onetime Sunni elite have pinned their hopes on Allawi.
Politicians and Western diplomats predict a drawn-out fight to lead the next government that could drag on into July, with the drift exploited by groups inside and outside the political process.
Those at the Iranian Embassy after the attack saw no easy solutions. Bleary-eyed soldiers, who had been stuck in traffic when the suicide bomber detonated explosives in front of them, sprawled out on the grass and smoked, not far from their destroyed vehicles. They described bundling their wounded comrades off to the hospital.
“There will be more,” said Abu Ahmed, an officer. “The country is living in a bad political situation. A vacuum has been created.” His companion nodded.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, whose ministry was gutted in a bombing in August that rang in a new era of assaults on ministries and key city buildings, also worried that bloodshed would increase in this transition period.
“This has strong connections with the ongoing political debate and the discussions about the new government. It is a message to derail the process and to emphasize the terrorists are still in business,” Zebari said.
He said politicians, with their name-calling and broad accusations, had helped foster an atmosphere in which groups seize the opportunity to carry out such gruesome bombings.
“This unhealthy political environment with [political figures’] unhealthy statements and threats of violence may have been conducive,” he said. “Everyone is urging that we expedite the formation of the new government so there won’t be any security or governmental vacuum. This has been the main concern for everyone and all of our friends.”
The minister blamed Al Qaeda in Iraq for Sunday’s seemingly coordinated attacks but wondered aloud how such blasts could keep happening in central Baghdad, on the same streets, without help from within the nation’s security apparatus.
“We’ve said definitely there must be some collaboration. Otherwise, these terrorists shouldn’t be able to move so freely in downtown Baghdad,” Zebari said.
Supporters of Maliki also sounded grim.
“This transition period is good for Al Qaeda and those who have weapons, with the differences between the political parties and the uncertainty of the direction in which the country will go,” said Jabr Habeeb Jabr, a parliament member from Maliki’s slate.
Jabr expected more attacks as a means of destabilizing the government and discrediting Maliki.
“Everyone knows the important achievement of the prime minister is the security file,” Jabr said. “When he is stripped of that, he will be left with nothing.”
Redha is a Times staff writer. Times staff writer Caesar Ahmed contributed to this report.