BAGHDAD, Iraq — Suicide bombers struck government buildings and busy intersections in Baghdad Tuesday in a series of coordinated attacks aimed at paralyzing Iraqi institutions as the country heads into national elections.
At the site of one the bombings — the appeals court in western Baghdad — mercy was in particularly short supply.
Iraqi civil defense workers loaded body bags of at least 10 people killed in the blast into ambulances while rescue workers frantically turned over piles of bricks, flinging them aside with their bare hands looking for survivors. Another dozen people were wounded in the mid-morning bombing — one of four that killed more than 70 people and wounded more than 100.
The court moved to the location in Baghdad’s Mansour neighborhood after the Justice Ministry itself was bombed in October. Another car bomb exploded at the temporary quarters of the Finance Ministry, which was bombed in August.
Iraqi explosives experts picking up car parts flung onto the roof of the destroyed court building said a suicide bomber in an olive-colored van loaded with plastic explosives crashed through a metal security barrier before detonating in the parking lot.
A judge with building dust on his suit wandered through the rubble. On a nearby street, children evacuated from a school with its windows blown out waited in a minibus for someone in charge to take them home.
Haider Mohammad, an Iraqi army explosives ordinance detonation expert, carried the license plate of the suicide vehicle in a plastic bag. Wearing the blue disposable gloves that have been one of the U.S. military’s most important lessons to Iraqi forensics teams, allowing the gathering of evidence that is untainted by investigators' fingerprints, he handed it to an ungloved Iraqi intelligence official to photograph with his cell phone.
“I think the situation will get worse before the elections,” said Mohammad, a veteran of dozens of explosions.
Outside the destroyed court house, U.S. soldiers who directed that neither they nor their vehicles could be photographed, helped secure the street. U.S. combat forces withdrew from the cities in June but have increasingly been asked for help by Iraqi security forces grappling with serious security threats.
Inside, U.S. explosive experts worked with their Iraqi counterparts to gather evidence to run through U.S. and Iraqi labs.
The Iraqi government immediately blamed Al Qaeda in Iraq and Saddam regime loyalists for the attacks. At the bomb site and in the streets though, Iraqis said they believed it was the work of politicians, trying to weaken the chances of competing parties before the elections. Iraqi officials announced Tuesday that elections would be held in March. In parliament, lawmakers demanded that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and senior security officials appear to explain how the bombings had happened.
The court house was immediately adjacent to Baghdad’s Fine Arts Academy, where shattering glass wounded more than 20 students and teachers.
On the main road through Mansour, near an amusement park Ferris wheel that continued to turn, high school student Omar Saleh had just been to the academy looking for his cousin, Taysin.
“I’ve been calling her for hours but there’s no reply,” he said.
Two other theater students in the building at the time of the blast said they were planning to go back to school the next day if it was open because they needed to rehearse for a play.
Rami Hussein was directing a modern adaptation of the ancient tale of Gilgamesh, a legendary ruler.
“We are waiting for Gilgamesh,” said the producer Adel al-Shami.