BAGHDAD - Twin car bombs targeted two government buildings in downtown Baghdad Sunday, wrecking pillars of the state's authority and cutting like a scythe through snarled traffic during the morning rush hour. The government said at least 108 people were killed and 512 wounded in one of the worst attacks in Baghdad.
The first bomb struck an intersection near the Justice Ministry and the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works at around 10:15 a.m. on the first day of the Iraqi work week, when streets are always more crowded. Less than a minute later, a second blast targeted the Baghdad provincial headquarters, draped in a sign heralding its renovation.
The bombings bore the hallmarks of an Aug. 19 attack that targeted the Finance and Foreign Ministries, killing more than 100 people. Both appeared aimed at undermining faith in the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has staked his political future on restoring a semblance of security to the war-wrecked country.
Hours after the attack, he visited the scene, surveying the damage.
"This is part of the struggle over power in Iraq, and Iraqis will have to sacrifice themselves for it," said Mohammed al-Rubai, an opponent of Maliki who serves as a member of the Baghdad provincial council. "Everyone in charge shares responsibility."
The blasts, which the Interior Ministry said were carried out by suicide bombers, detonated under a pale gray sky, shattering windows more than a mile away. Broken water mains sent water coursing through the street, strewn with debris. Pools of water mixed with blood gathered along the curbs, detritus floating on the surface.
Cars caught in traffic jams turned into tombs, bodies incinerated inside.
"Bodies were hurled into the air," said Mohammed Fadhil, a 19-year-old bystander. "I saw women and children cut in half." He looked down at a curb smeared with blood. "What's the sin that those people committed? They are so innocent."
The cacophony of destruction ensued after the blasts: the thud of helicopters intersecting with the noon call to prayer as rescue workers frantically pulled charred bodies from crumpled cars. Broken glass littered the sidewalk like ice in a hailstorm.
"Bring blankets! Bring blankets!" Iraqi relief officials shouted at colleagues, as they trudged through the flooded streets. "There are more bodies!"
"Clear the street!" other police shouted at bystanders who had gathered.
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On the sidewalk, corpses were covered in checkered brown blankets.
"What kind of improvement is there? None," said Riyadh Jumaa, 32, who fled with his 3-year-old son in his arms. When the second blast struck, both were hurled to the ground. "The ministers, the officers, they're sitting in their chairs doing nothing."
Like the Aug. 19 attack, the blasts Sunday bore a cold logic, seemingly designed to reveal the government's inability to protect the capital, the seat of its authority.
The earlier attacks prompted criticism of Maliki because his administration had scaled back security measures in Baghdad just days earlier. Maliki blamed those attacks on members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party allied with the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. In the wake of the attacks, his government arrested several army and police officers, accusing them of negligence. Officials also promptly purported to have detained the culprits, and they aired a video of a man who confessed to organizing the attacks. American officials later cast doubt on the veracity of the arrests or confession.
The attacks Sunday seem sure to accentuate doubts in Maliki's ability to maintain security, the cornerstone of his party's campaign in national elections in January. Critics have lambasted him for being overconfident in his security forces' readiness as American forces pull back from the cities in preparation of a larger U.S. withdrawal next year.
At the scene, bystanders grew angry as high-ranking police and army officers visited the devastated ministries, surrounded by security details of dozens of men.
"Look! 200 just to protect him!" shouted Ahmed Abed. "Who has trust in the government," he went on. "Why should I have trust? Should I trust the son of a dog?"
In front of the provincial headquarters, Iman Barazinji, a Kurdish member of the provincial headquarters, made the same complaint, echoing popular frustration at the inability of Baghdad's ubiquitous checkpoints to stop cars laden with explosives and at the caravans that escort officials ensconced in offices fortified by blast walls.
"We don't want anyone to hide behind the walls any longer," she shouted.
Correspondent Ernesto Londoño and special correspondents Aziz Alwan and Qais Mizher contributed to this report.