A string of explosions tore through central Baghdad within minutes of each other on Thursday, followed by a co-ordinated assault by gunmen who raided a government building and battled security forces in the streets. The attack killed 25 people in addition to the gunmen and wounded 55 others, police said.The dead included seven police officers, 15 civilians and 3 militants, police and medics said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.The fighting lasted about an hour, ending with security forces storming the building, killing the gunmen and evacuating hundreds of people who had hunkered down in their offices, according to police. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack bore the hallmarks of Al Qaeda’s Iraqi arm.The group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, frequently uses car bombs and co-ordinated blasts in an effort to undermine Iraqis confidence in the government.Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim said there were more than 1,000 people in the four-story building at the time of the attack. He said the minister is abroad and was not inside.“When the explosions and shooting started, the guards evacuated me out a back door, and I have no idea what happened after that,” he said, speaking over the telephone from outside the building.At least three bombs went off in Alawi neighbourhood, near the foreign and culture ministries and offices of the communications ministry, at about 1:30pm (1030 GMT), officials and witnesses said. At around the same time, militants staged an apparently unsuccessful assault on the nearby justice ministry. A police officer who was among the troops sent to clear the area said that approximately six gunmen wearing police uniforms quickly stormed the building.“Everybody panicked (after the first blast) and seconds later we heard a second explosion. I looked through the window and I saw some gunmen wearing police uniforms entering the building. We knew that these policemen were fake,” said Asmaa Abbas, a Justice Ministry employee who was working in her third-floor office.“It was the longest hour in my life,” said Abbas.“Some terrorists tried to infiltrate the justice ministry,” said Sabah Noori, spokesman for Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service. “The bombs were co-ordinated with them (militants) trying to get into the ministry” he added.Gunfire was heard after the blasts, and smoke could be seen rising above the neighbourhood, witnesses said. A heavy security presence barred journalists from taking photos or video, and firefighters managed to douse a blaze that had broken out, according to a journalist. Accounts differed on how successful the militants were in their assault on the ministry. An official in Baghdad’s security command centre said three militants were killed inside the justice ministry building, but ministry spokesman Haidar Al Saadi said clashes had only occurred outside. Saadi said no ministry employees were hurt in the assault, and Iraqiya state television reported that security forces evacuated all employees from the building. A justice ministry employee said that staff escaped the building via a rear entrance, and reported clashes between militants and security forces in which fighters used hand grenades. Also on Thursday, a bombing targeted a candidate in Iraq’s upcoming provincial elections, after another was kidnapped along with his father and other relatives north of Baghdad the night before. A magnetic “sticky bomb” exploded on a car carrying Khaled Hussein Al Daraji, a candidate in Salaheddin province, killing his driver and wounding three nearby workers, though Daraji escaped unharmed. And a tribal sheikh, Qais Abdul Karim Al Janabi, was kidnapped along with his son, Salaheddin provincial elections candidate Abdul Karim, and five other relatives in Siniyah, north of Baghdad.A family member said phone contact with the relatives had been lost on Wednesday night.Thursday’s attack took place about a kilometre away from the heavily fortified Green Zone.All the buildings lie near the Green Zone complex in central Baghdad, home to parliament, the prime minister’s office and the US and British embassies.Justice Ministry employees had moved to this facility after a 2009 attack on the nearby Ministry of Justice, which is now being repaired.That attack was part of a double car bombing which killed at least 147 people and heavily damaged the building.Violence in Iraq has subsided from its peak in 2006 and 2007, but deadly attacks remain frequent a decade after the US-led invasion of March 20, 2003. Iraq’s government is being challenged by weekly protests by civilians angry over perceived discrimination that began in December. The demonstrations have been largely peaceful, and most Iraqis do not voice support for Al Qaeda.
source : Gulftoday