Armed men carry out coordinated bombings outside Iraq's Central Bank
BAGHDAD -- The day before Iraq's new parliament was to convene, armed men, some said to be wearing Iraqi army uniforms, carried out coordinated bombings around Iraq's Central Bank in what officials said may have been an attempt to gain access to its vaults.
At least 15 people were killed and 50 wounded in the onslaught Sunday afternoon in the middle of the capital, according to Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, spokesman for Baghdad's security forces. In addition, at least three of the attackers blew themselves up.
The sound of clashes continued for nearly five hours after a series of blasts ripped through the streets around the bank about 2:30 p.m., witnesses and security officials said. People in the area said they heard more than six explosions.
The assault on the bank, which manages the government's reserves, was the latest in a growing number of robberies and gold heists across the country. Atta accused the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq in the bank assault. He said the attackers were unable to escape with any valuables.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq has suffered major setbacks since Iraq's March 7 parliamentary elections, including the slaying of its top two leaders and the capture of several of its high-level officials.
"The imprint of al-Qaeda is clear," Atta said of the bank assault. Statements by group members in detention indicate that the organization is dealing with a major "financial shortage," Atta said on state television. "They try to compensate for this shortage by armed robberies on banks."
Despite his assertion, it was unclear whether al-Qaeda in Iraq was responsible or whether the robbery was simply a criminal attack. The Central Bank houses sensitive documents.
Iraqi security forces responded to the assault and cordoned off the area, but they did not go into the bank until hours after the bombings. Firefighters arrived to battle the resulting blaze, which took three hours to contain. The scene was chaotic, and security forces were unsure who was inside the bank, Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal of Iraq's Interior Ministry said in a telephone interview.
Just after 7 p.m., the streets quieted, and Atta said on state television that all was "under control."
In describing the assault, Atta said three men in uniforms tried to get in through the bank's main door. After clashing with civil defense guards, they blew themselves up. Another group of men went to a second door, where they were met by civil defense guards. A bomb also ripped through a generator outside the bank.
Hussein is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Aziz Alwan contributed to this report.