Extremist group claims responsibility for Baghdad bombs

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 27, 2009; 6:13 AM

BAGHDAD -- The Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni extremist group that includes al Qaeda in Iraq, has claimed responsibility for twin bombings Sunday that targeted key government buildings and killed nearly 160 Iraqis, according to a claim posted online.

The group called the targeted sites "dens of infidelity," according to a statement posted on a Web site used by extremists to make such claims. Its authenticity could not be independently verified.

The group also claimed responsibility for similar bombings that killed more than 100 people in August.

The devastating bombings at the Justice Ministry, the Baghdad Provincial Council and the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works appeared designed to portray the Shiite-led government as feeble and rudderless ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for January. They are expected to cripple key government agencies for months.

The aftermath of bombing appeared to break a deadlock in negotiations over an election law, a necessary step in organizing the January vote. There were few details, but an official said a proposal would go to political leaders Tuesday and then on to Parliament.

Even as rescue workers continued to pull bodies out of the rubble Monday, an attack in Karbala, a city south of Baghdad, raised fears of a fresh outbreak of violence. Explosives in a minibus detonated at the entrance of the holy city, killing at least 12 people and wounding several, said Maj. Alaa Ghanimi, a spokesman for security forces in Karbala.

Sunday's attacks came as the government continued to reel from the Aug. 19 bombings, which targeted the Foreign and Finance ministries. Those attacks caused delays in paying government workers this summer and hindered reconstruction projects because paperwork was missing, government officials said.

"These attacks are targeting the symbols of Iraqi sovereignty, and they aim to paralyze the government," said Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, whose ministry was hit in the August attack.

Officials at the Foreign Ministry have been able to return to some parts of the compound, Zebari said. But the ministry's dilapidated facade has been an embarrassment for Iraqi officials, who are eager to prove they are capable of keeping Baghdad secure as U.S. forces pull back.

The structural damage at the Justice Ministry appeared severe Monday. The ministry oversees the country's chronically crowded prisons and is in the process of deciding which inmates in U.S. custody it wants to keep as the Americans continue to reduce their detainee population.

Sunday's attack is almost certain to exacerbate lengthy backlogs in criminal cases, which have long been a grievance among Sunni Muslims. Though they make up roughly 20 percent of the Iraqi population, Sunnis account for about 80 percent of detainees in the Iraqi justice system.

As in August, the suicide bombers who struck Sunday were able to get remarkably close to the buildings, because the government of President Nouri al-Maliki in recent months has scaled down security measures in an effort to restore a sense of normalcy to this bunkered capital. On Sunday, flatbed trucks were seen at both sites, bringing new concrete barriers.

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