Baghdad bombing leaves hole in diplomatic corps
Iraq's Foreign Ministry saw 10 percent of its staff killed or injured. Foreign minister blames systemic security breaches for last week's assault.
Iraqi diplomats are clearing out the rubble of their bombed Foreign Ministry building while the nation grapples with the aftermath of an attack that has rocked the foundation of its fragile security and served notice that the country is still at war.Skip to next paragraph
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The twin suicide truck bombs that exploded outside the Foreign Ministry and Finance Ministry last week killed more than 100 people and wounded almost 600 in attacks on two major symbols of Iraqi sovereignty.
"What happened on Black Wednesday was truly a national tragedy," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters in a press conference Saturday aimed at showing the ministry was working through the destruction. "This incident targeted the whole Iraqi government, the whole Iraqi state, to bring it down."
Outside the twisted facade and gaping windows of the 10-story building, city workers reerected blast walls taken down earlier this year in what Mr. Zebari bluntly described as overconfidence and a systemic failure of security.
"No to al-Qaeda, no to Saddam's henchmen. No to the malicious foreign hands that want to return Iraq to the era of darkness," reads one of the black banners strung across the wreckage in front of the vast apartment blocks built for government employees in the Saddam Hussein era.
Inside, Zebari held meetings in a makeshift reception room with plastic sheeting for walls. Iraqi officials with their heads bandaged walked the halls exchanging news of more severely wounded colleagues.
Thirty-two Foreign Ministry employees were killed in the blast. More than 60 other ministry people were wounded, many of them seriously, when the truck bomb struck. That's 10 percent of the ministry staff injured or killed.
Many of the casualties were young diplomats at the start of their careers in the foreign service.
"They were brilliant," says Ambassador Srood Najib, who lost six of his staff in the Americas department on one of the floors most heavily hit by the blast. "I selected them one by one and watched over them. I was thinking that 10, 15 years from now they could lead us."
Instead, they were buried last week. The unmarried men and women were laid to rest after the funeral services, which, according to Muslim tradition, included mock weddings to make up for what they missed on earth.
"Our goals are to keep working, not to surrender, and to keep life moving in the ministry," says Zebari, walking through a cleared corridor that had been filled with rubble two days ago. They plan to begin rebuilding, floor by floor, if the building is declared structurally sound.
Setback to international relations
It is the second time Zebari is overseeing reconstruction of the ministry, which was looted to the floors after the US invasion in 2003. Six years later, Iraq has diplomatic ties with more than 70 countries. But the bombing, and the security shortcomings it revealed, are certain to set back efforts to woo trade and other foreign missions here.
"I think this will impact the overall impression of how solid the security situation is," says Zebari in an interview against a backdrop of workers hammering. "Unless the government succeeds in providing better security for its own people, not for the missions, others will not be encouraged."