A suicide bomber plowed an explosives-laden vehicle into an Interior Ministry building in central Baghdad on Tuesday, killing 21 people and wounding more than 80 in an attack that raised fear that extremists are escalating a campaign of bombings aimed at destabilizing the government.
The attack came a day after bombings at three major Baghdad hotels in which 37 people died. Though the capital has seen coordinated multiple bombings several times, it has become rare for suicide attackers to strike two days in a row.
The latest attack targeted a building housing a forensic laboratory and fit a pattern of recent bombings at government institutions and high-profile landmarks as tension rises before pivotal national elections scheduled for March.
The explosion pulverized protective blast walls, caused extensive damage to the building and shattered windows for hundreds of yards around.
People at the scene accused the Iraqi security forces of failing to protect them. But they mostly blamed Saddam Hussein’s former ruling Baath Party, reflecting the official government view that Baathists were responsible for most of the bombings.
“The Baathists are ready to ally with even the devil, not only Al Qaeda, to create unrest,” said Marwan Abid Salman, 35, who lives near the bombing site.
The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. Ray Odierno, said he was convinced that the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq was behind the latest attacks, perhaps acting in coordination with some Baathists.
“We don’t have proof yet, but I believe this was Al Qaeda,” the general told journalists.
Odierno noted that Monday’s bombings featured a new tactic, in which gunmen helped the bombers gain access to two of the hotels by firing on guards at the gate. The bombings showed that extremists were still capable of launching sophisticated attacks, but Odierno said he believed that the militants lacked the capacity to mount a sustained campaign.
“They are doing a lot less attacks,” he said, “but they are trying to get a bigger outcome.”
Salman is a Times staff writer.