BAGHDAD - Suicide attackers detonated three car bombs in quick succession near foreign embassies in Baghdad Sunday, killing more than 40 people in coordinated strikes that Iraqi officials said were intended to disrupt efforts to form a new government.
The bombings followed the execution-style killings of 24 villagers in a Sunni area two days earlier, a spike in violence that suggests insurgents are seizing on the political uncertainty after the recent election to try to destabilize the country as U.S. troops prepare to leave. No clear winner emerged from the March 7 vote.
Yesterday's explosions went off within minutes of each other, starting shortly after 11 a.m. One struck near the Iranian Embassy and two others hit an area that houses several diplomatic missions, including the Egyptian Consulate and the German and Spanish embassies. It was not immediately known whether diplomatic staff were among the victims.
Authorities said they foiled two other attacks aimed at diplomatic targets by stopping the would-be bombers' vehicles and defusing the explosives.
Stunned victims in bloody clothes were loaded into ambulances as gray smoke rose over Baghdad. "I saw children screaming," Hassan Karim, 32, who owns a clothing shop in Baghdad, told The Associated Press. "Cars were crashing into each other in streets, trying to find a way to flee."
The violence suggests insurgents are trying to regroup in the political vacuum left after the elections.
Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's cross-sectarian bloc tapped into heavy Sunni support to come in just two seats ahead of the mainly Shia list of the incumbent, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But neither side has enough seats to govern alone, which means they are scrambling to cobble together enough parliamentary support to form a government.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the bombings were an attempt to inject more turmoil into the political scene as the election front-runners try to forge a coalition government. "These terrorists will not be able to stop Iraqis and friends of the Iraqi people from building a free, secure and prosperous future," the ministry said.
Several Iraqi guards from the German and Egyptian missions were confirmed dead, authorities said. One police official said many of the victims were employees at a state-run bank near the Iranian Embassy. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
The Spanish embassy building suffered "considerable damage" but nobody was injured, the Spanish government said.
The attackers wore suicide vests and drove cars laden with explosives, said Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for the city's operations command center.
Guards at the Egyptian Consulate opened fire on one of the attackers as he drove toward them, but they were unable to stop him.
While overall violence has dropped considerably in Iraq since 2006 and 2007, the ability of insurgents to carry out well-planned attacks shows that significant security lapses remain.