A series of coordinated car bombings Tuesday killed more than 75 people and wounded more than 500, bringing Iraq's capital to a standstill in the latest attack aimed at undermining the government ahead of a key election in March.
The attacks, three of them suicide car bombs, were carried out just two days after Parliament passed an election law after weeks of wrangling, paving the way for a vote on March 6. Two of the car bombs hit government offices that had been forced to move after their ministry buildings were bombed earlier this year.
"These cowardly terrorist attacks that took place in Baghdad today, after the Parliament succeeded in overcoming the last obstacle to conducting elections confirms that the enemies of Iraq and its people are aiming at creating chaos in the country, blocking political progress, and delaying the elections," said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has staked his popularity on getting security under control.
Rescuers dig through rubble
Iraqi soldiers and police quickly sealed off major roads around the blast sites as relatives pleaded to be let through.
"My son is at school. I don't know if he's dead or alive," an off-duty Defense Ministry employee begged an Iraqi soldier. He said he had been trying all the phone numbers for his 4-year-old son's kindergarten for the past hour and a half.
Although one of the blasts shattered windows in the kindergarten in Baghdad's Mansour district, parents later said the children were unhurt. The attack was aimed at a nearby court building, where Iraqi officials on the scene said a suicide bomber drove his van, packed with plastic explosives, through a security barrier, and exploded it in the parking lot.
The appeals court moved to the site after the Justice Ministry was bombed in October, said an Iraqi security official.
The force of the explosion hurled pieces of the olive-colored van onto the roof of building. Dozens of Iraqi civil defense workers carried the wounded to ambulances. Others, their faces darkened with soot, dug through piles of bricks for anyone buried under the rubble of the collapsed building.
Bound folders of court records, their edges singed, were buried in the mud.
One of the rescue workers, Mohammad Jassim, said about 10 people had been killed and about a dozen more wounded in the attack. "They are targeting all the government buildings – it's very clear that the political parties looking for seats are behind this," he charged.
Lawmakers demand an explanation for lack of security
In Parliament on Tuesday, lawmakers demanded that the prime minister and senior security officials come in to explain why security forces were unable to prevent the bombings.
The coordinated bombings were the biggest since suicide vehicles exploded outside the Justice Ministry and the Baghdad governorate building in October, killing at least 150 people. In August, suicide bombers struck the Foreign and Finance ministries, killing more than 100.
US troops help with forensics
The other attacks on Tuesday hit a temporary building of the Finance Ministry, a technical college, and an intersection near a mosque, according to the Interior Ministry spokesman.
US troops on the ground, called in by the Iraqis to help with gathering forensic evidence and securing the sites, were more visible than they have been in other major bombings since the US withdrew its troops from cities this summer.
US helicopters, some firing flares to deflect missiles, kept watch overheard.
Near the court building, a minibus of school children who were evacuated from a nearby school waited for their parents to pick them up.
Mohammad, who is 12, said they had all been frightened when the glass shattered in their school but that none of his classmates had been hurt.
His father, Mahmud, says he and other parents would send their children back to school as soon as it reopened.
"We're used to this," he says. "Our house was destroyed in the Foreign Ministry bombing."
• Awad al-Ta'ee contributed to this report.