BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A car bomb and a roadside bomb blew up in a crowded parking lot outside a government building north of Baghdad Tuesday, killing at least 28 people and wounding dozens more, officials said.
The blasts struck a municipal office in the town of Taji, about 20 km (12 miles) north of the Iraqi capital, a day after a wave of attacks on police and soldiers that underscored Iraq’s fragile security as U.S. troops prepare to leave by year-end.
The explosions hit police, government workers and Iraqis lined up for national identity cards. Television footage showed bodies and body parts scattered across the open lot.
“I was standing in a line when suddenly a powerful blast shook the ground. I immediately covered my face as shrapnel and shattered glass flew around,” said witness Karrar Abid, who acts as a middleman for people applying for identity cards.
“I heard people screaming, ‘car bomb, car bomb, people killed’. I turned around to see four cars set ablaze, with smoke and dust filling the area ... The second blast awakened me from the shock, to see people covered with blood screaming for help.”
Deputy Health Minister Khamis al-Saad said the bombs killed 28 people and wounded 58. An Interior Ministry source put the toll at 35 dead.
“It was a double explosion. The first was caused by a car bomb,” said Raad al-Tamimi, head of the Taji municipality. “The place was crowded with people who were going to process official papers and with police and employees.”
More than eight years after the invasion that ousted Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraq is plagued by a stubborn insurgency that launches attacks on a daily basis. U.S. military officials say Iraq sees an average of 14 attacks a day.
Militants have targeted Iraqi police and soldiers for months as a way of undermining confidence in their ability to provide security when U.S. forces withdraw by the end of December under a security agreement between the two countries.
Taji, a mixed area of Shi’ites and Sunnis that was once a battlefield for al Qaeda and the Mehdi Army militia, was struck in May by a suicide bomber who killed at least 11 soldiers.
Tamimi said many of the wounded in Tuesday’s blasts were in serious condition at a hospital in the Kadhimiya district of northern Baghdad.
“The hospital is crowded. Relatives of the wounded are in and out. Some of the wounded were transferred to other hospitals,” he said. “The material damages to the building of the district council were minor, like shattered glass, because the explosions were outside the council.
At least 10 police and soldiers have been killed in a wave of attacks across Iraq over the past three days, with at least 22 others wounded.
Militants also launched a Katyusha rocket late Monday at Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone of government buildings and foreign embassies. It landed near the well-known Rasheed Hotel, one of the capital’s largest, killing three women and two children and settling ablaze 25 caravans, officials said.
Iraq’s civilian death toll in June was the highest since January, with 155 killed.
Militants have taken a heavy toll on government targets in recent months.
On June 21, two bombs killed at least 25 people outside a provincial governor’s house in Diwaniya. Gunmen and suicide bombers stormed a provincial council building in Baquba on June 14 after detonating a car bomb outside, killing eight.
In March nearly 60 people died in a siege at a provincial council headquarters in Saddam hometown, Tikrit.
“We are fed up with death and blood scenes,” said Abid, the Taji bombing witness, who used his own car to transport wounded to hospital. “There must be some end to our ordeal ... someone must do something to end our suffering.”
Writing by Jim Loney