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Series of Blasts Kills 75, Wounds 300 in Baghdad

BY Tom LeGro  August 19, 2009 at 9:39 AM EDT

A wounded man walks outside the foreign ministry; photo by Khalil al-Murshidi/AFP/Getty Images

It was the deadliest day in the capital since U.S. troops largely withdrew from cities on June 30.

The midmorning attacks hit first near the Finance Ministry in northern Baghdad and then minutes later near the Foreign Ministry just as Prime Minister Nouri Maliki was about to arrive at a nearby hotel to hold a news conference.

The Associated Press reported that the worst of the attacks was a truck bomb that tore through Iraq’s Foreign Ministry, killing at least 59 people and wounding 250. Officials said the toll may climb as rescue workers dig through rubble and debris. The ministry is just outside the Green Zone, the most heavily protected part of the capital.

“The windows of the Foreign Ministry shattered, slaughtering the people inside. I could see ministry workers, journalists and security guards among the dead,” a ministry employee told Reuters.

The force of the explosion blew concrete slabs off the front of the 10-story building, shattered windows and crushed cars parked outside. It left a crater 10 feet deep and 33 feet in diameter, reported the Agence France-Presse.

“I was in my home with my family when the roof collapsed on us,” a man named Hamid, who lives nearby the foreign ministry compound, told the AFP. “The government promised us security would return but where is the security?”

Another car bomb targeted a joint Iraqi police and army patrol just outside the Finance Ministry, killing at least eight people and wounding 22, a police official said.

Another blast in the commercial area of western Baghdad’s Baiyaa district killed two people and wounded 16, and a bombing in the commercial district of Bab al-Muadham killed six people and wounded 24, authorities said.

It was the bloodiest day in Iraq since February 2008, when bombs at Baghdad pet markets left 98 people dead, and coincided with the sixth anniversary of a truck bombing on the U.N. compound in Baghdad that killed U.N. special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 other people.

At least one mortar landed near the new U.N. compound in the Green Zone, U.N. guards told Reuters.

Baghdad’s security spokesman Major General Qassim al-Moussawi said Iraqi forces had foiled another car bomb attack and had arrested two members of al Qaeda, reported Reuters. “We accuse the Baathist alliance of executing these terrorist operations,” said al-Moussawi.

There have been no claims of responsibility for the attacks.

A string of attacks in Iraq this month have claimed hundreds of lives and raised concerns about the ability of Iraqi security forces to quell the violence in advance of an American withdrawal and ahead of next year’s national elections.

The Baghdad government said this month most of the city’s blast walls would be removed within 40 days, a sign of confidence in its security forces ahead of national elections due in January.

Earlier this week, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said he wants to deploy American troops to disputed areas in the northern part of the country, which has seen an uptick in violence. Army Gen. Ray Odierno said they would provide oversight and help ease tensions between Kurdish and Iraqi forces.

The move would be a departure from the security pact calling on American troops to pull back from populated areas at the end of June. Odierno stressed no final decision has been made.