Twin suicide car bombings in central Baghdad kill 26


At least 26 people have been killed in a twin suicide car bombing close to a state-owned bank in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, officials have said.

More than 50 others were also hurt when the vehicles exploded simultaneously outside the Trade Bank of Iraq's headquarters in the Yarmouk district.

The blasts severely damaged the building and the nearby offices of an interior ministry identity-card centre.

There has been increased unrest in Iraq since March's parliamentary election.

The poll produced no outright winner, and a deal between the various parties to form a coalition government has not yet been reached.

Co-ordinated attacks

Baghdad security spokesman Maj-General Qassim al-Moussawi told the Reuters news agency that the two cars were packed with around 80kg (176lb) of explosives each, and were driven directly at the main gates of the Trade Bank.

The bombs were detonated simultaneously by the drivers shortly after 1100 (0800 GMT) when their vehicles struck the blast-walls protecting the building, he added.

Several security guards stationed outside the building were killed by the explosions. A bank employee said the death toll would have been worse had it not been for the blastwalls and the building's shatterproof glass.

At least two of the dead were police officers guarding the nearby interior ministry building, outside which a number of people were queuing to apply for identity cards at the start of the working week.

"I feel so sorry for what is happening to my country," Mahmoud Asi, a local resident who was wounded along with his wife in the attack, told Reuters. "All the bank's guards were killed."

The Trade Bank of Iraq is one of the public sector's most active financial institutions and at the forefront of efforts to encourage foreign investment.

The attack came just a week after gunmen wearing explosive belts attacked the Iraqi Central Bank, engaging security forces in a lengthy gun battle before blowing themselves up.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says it is not clear whether banks have now become the latest category of target for insurgents, though officials have speculated that they may be turning in that direction because their funds are running out.

However, the attack on the central bank was highly unusual and has left many question marks, our correspondent says.

Responsibility for it has apparently been taken by al-Qaeda's umbrella group in Iraq, but the main objective seems to have been to destroy records inside the bank, and there has been speculation that it may have been an attempt to cover up a huge money-laundering operation, he adds.

Overnight on Saturday, three roadside bombs exploded in the predominantly Shia district of Hurriya, killing at least two people and wounding 14.

Officials told Iraqi media that the first bomb went off on a main street. When locals gathered, the second bomb exploded, and when police came to the site, the third bomb was detonated.

Despite the recent attacks, correspondents say the general level of violence in the country remains far lower than it was at the height of the insurgency and sectarian conflict in 2006 and 2007.

Last Monday, the 325 members of the Council of Representatives were sworn in, but the session was immediately suspended until further notice to allow consultations on the election of a new speaker.

Our correspondent says the job is part of the mix in a wider division of powers that cannot be done until there is agreement on the other major components, most importantly who will be the next prime minister.

A lot of manoeuvring and wrangling will be needed to hammer out a power-sharing deal and the prediction is that it will take weeks, possibly months, he adds.

The political uncertainty threatens the planned end of US combat operations in August, ahead of a full withdrawal by the end of 2011.