Car Bombs Target Baghdad Government, Kill Dozens

More than 100 people are dead after a pair of suicide car bombs exploded in downtown Baghdad. The attacks appeared to target government buildings. NPR'S Quil Lawrence gives host Liane Hansen the latest updates.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hanson.

The death toll in Baghdad is rising after two suicide car bombings hit the justice ministry building and the city's municipal council buildings. The attacks have killed at least 130 people and wounded more than 500.

NPR's Baghdad bureau chief Quil Lawrence has returned from the scene. Quil, what did you see?

QUIL LAWRENCE: Well, we heard the explosions this morning. They shook our windows from miles away. And as we got close to the scene, we had to get out of cars and walk because the bridges crossing over to the center of Baghdad were crowded with rescue vehicles.

Once we got there we saw two - these two government buildings that were just devastated by these bombs, about half a mile apart. And you could see dozens and dozens of mangled cars, rescue workers desperately trying to get mostly bodies out of these cars at this point and bodies littering the street, actually. One of the bombs broke a water main, and so it had flooded the entire street. And rescue workers were trying to get the dead out of the water and out of the debris.

On the street, you can see almost a chronicle of the last six years in Baghdad. You could see today's bombing. You could see blasts that looked like they might have been from today, but in fact they were from a couple years ago when there was open fighting on this street, Haifa Street. And then just looking across the Tigris River, you can see buildings that are still unreconstructed from the bombardment and invasion in 2003.

HANSEN: Did you get to talk to any people at the scene, and what did they say?

LAWRENCE: Sure. I mean, some people were just distraught and sobbing, talking down their telephones, telling people - one man was telling his family that his brother was dead inside the building. He didn't know what to say or who to blame. There was a woman who was a member of the municipal council, and she was just screaming at whoever would listen, including the security forces there, that these are people who want to stop Iraq from having democracy.

There were also some politicians who showed up on the scene soon after, some of whom were saying that this is a problem with security, that the current government needs to step down or be voted out of office because they haven't provided security to the people.

HANSEN: Let me ask a little bit about that because the foreign ministry building was attacked by a truck bomb in August, and then the government was under a lot of pressure to increase the security. Why didn't they? What happened?

LAWRENCE: Well, security is still very good compared to recent years, but apparently with these two devastating attacks, and they look like the same sort of signature, people were able to bribe their way through the hundreds of checkpoints around Baghdad and get these massive car bombs into place.

It seems to be a statement - U.S. military officials have said in the past, that it's a statement by extremists to say they're still here, they can still attack, and they're trying to undermine the sitting government and tell people that no, you're not safe, no, your government is lying to you when they say that they're protecting you.

HANSEN: Well, Iraq is scheduled to hold elections in January. Are there any indications that this act was politically motivated?

LAWRENCE: Yes, many people had predicted that the violence would increase coming up to the elections. Certainly, some people are just trying to undermine Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his promises of security. In fact, he showed up at the scene shortly after I left, kind of trying to say that he's still riding - still campaigning on this security platform.

There are other people who are probably trying to derail the whole process here, make sure these elections aren't carried out. It's of particular note that the U.S. troop withdrawal is contingent on those elections being carried out successfully in January.

HANSEN: NPR's Quil Lawrence in Baghdad. Quil, thank you very much.

LAWRENCE: Thank you, Liane.

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