, BAGHDAD, Dec 8 – Five massive vehicle-borne bombs rocked Baghdad on Tuesday, killing 127 people, including women and students, and wounding hundreds in the third co-ordinated massacre to devastate the city since August.
The attacks shattered a month of calm in the Iraqi capital and came hours before an official said the war-torn country\’s general election, the second since the US-led ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein, would be held on March 6.
A senior security spokesman said the attacks – four of which were conducted by suicide attackers driving cars or minibuses – and which targeted key government buildings, bore "the touch of Al-Qaeda."
One of the suicide bombers detonated his payload at an office of the finance ministry, another attacker struck at a tunnel leading to the labour ministry, and a third drove a four-wheel-drive car into a court building.
"The suicide bomber drove up to the court and the security forces tried to stop him by firing their Kalashnikovs, but they did not kill him before he exploded," police sergeant Emad Fadhil told AFP.
A fourth suicide bomber in a car struck a police patrol in Dora, in southern Baghdad, causing 15 deaths, 12 of them students at a nearby technical college, an interior ministry official said.
Another car bomb hit offices of the interior ministry in central Baghdad.
The first explosion in the centre of the capital was heard at 0725 GMT, another came within seconds and a third one minute later.
The bombing at the courthouse destroyed a large part of the building, with falling concrete killing several people, according to emergency service workers at the scene.
Mangled wrecks of cars, some of which had been flipped over, lined the street opposite the courthouse, and several vehicles in the parking lot were crushed by collapsed blast walls.
Although no group has yet claimed responsibility, the timing of the blasts and the fact that three of them targeted government buildings bears all the hallmarks of an Al-Qaeda operation.
The interior ministry official said 127 people had been killed and 448 wounded in the bombings, with the finger of blame pointed at Al-Qaeda.
"The same black hand that was behind the attacks in August and October committed today\’s bombings," Major General Qassim Atta, spokesman for security operations in Baghdad, told AFP.
"This has the touch of Al-Qaeda and the Baathists," he said, referring to the outlawed Baath party of now executed dictator Saddam.
Both groups were blamed for bloody attacks – including truck bombings outside the finance, foreign and justice ministries – in Baghdad in August and October that killed more than 250 people and punctured confidence in the Iraqi security forces.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Tuesday\’s attacks were a "cowardly" attempt "to cause chaos… and hinder the election," and that the bombings were deliberately timed to come after MPs reached agreement on a law governing the election on Sunday.
He blamed "foreign elements" who backed Al-Qaeda.
Those caught up in Tuesday\’s bombings described scenes of horror.
"I heard the sound of the explosion, I fainted, then I found myself on this bed covered with blood," Um Saeed, whose arms and face were wounded in the court blast, told AFP at a local hospital, her clothes covered in blood.
An official at Medical City hospital in the centre of the capital said many of the 39 bodies they had received "had been blown apart," and some of them were women.
Violence across Iraq dropped dramatically last month, with the fewest deaths in attacks recorded since the US-led invasion of 2003. Official figures showed a total of 122 people were killed in November.
However the Baghdad government and the US military have warned of a rise in attacks in the run up to the election.
The presidency council, comprising President Jalal Talabani and his two deputies, are yet to officially announce the date but Qassim al-Abboudi of Iraq\’s Independent High Electoral Commission said March 6 had been chosen.
US diplomats, most notably Christopher Hill, Washington\’s ambassador to Baghdad, had pushed MPs to pass the law, seeking to avoid delays to the planned pullout of tens of thousands of American troops next year.