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Dozens Dead as Baghdad Rocked by Massive Explosions

Oliver August in Baghdad

The scene near the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, left, after a massive bomb attack in Baghdad on Wednesday. (Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press)

The centre of Baghdad was rocked by seven near-simultaneous explosions this
morning, killing an estimated 100 people and wounding 250 more.

In the deadliest attack in Iraq this year, and the most audacious one in the
capital for a long time, mortar fire and car bombs were directed towards the
main centres of power. Among the targets were the ministries of finance,
foreign affairs, health and housing, as well as the Parliament building and
the Cabinet building.

Also hit was a checkpoint on the approach roads to the fortified Green Zone.
The largest explosion was across the street from the Foreign Ministry and is
said to have killed 59 people. The combined total of dead and wounded is
said to be 350.

Today is the sixth anniversary of a truck bombing that hit the United Nations
compound in Baghdad, killing 22 people including special envoy Sergio Vieira
de Mello.

Nobody has so far claimed responsibility for the latest attacks, but it is
likely to have been carried out by Sunni extremists trying to undermine the
Shia-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in order to re-ignite
the sectarian warfare of two years ago.

Among the buildings hit in the attack was the Rasheed Hotel on the edge of the
Green Zone, a popular choice with foreign visitors.

John Tipple, a UK solicitor, said: "The windows were blown out and the
doors were taken out, even the door frames went. If I had been in my room at
the time I would have been seriously injured or worse. Everything is locked
down now. Nobody can move anywhere, nobody is getting in or out. Even our
security team cannot move."

One of the bombs left a crater three metres deep and 10 metres in diameter,
while the walls of the ministry compound in the Salhiyeh district were
destroyed and its facade badly damaged.

Violence had been on the rise in the last few weeks with several attacks in
the outskirts of Baghdad and in the north of the country. But today's
coordinated bombings took place in some of the best protected areas of the
city. This is a major challenge to the government ahead of national
elections in less than six months.

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