Three suicide car bombs targeting the Iranian and Egyptian embassies rocked Baghdad Sunday, killing 30 people in a surge of violence as Iraqis struggle to form a government four weeks after elections.
Officials said the near-simultaneous blasts late morning wounded 224 people while witnesses reported mayhem in central Baghdad as ambulances and emergency workers raced to the sites of the explosions.
"They were suicide attacks against the Egyptian and Iranian embassies," said Major General Qassim Atta, spokesman for the Iraqi security forces\' Baghdad operations.
Atta said one of the bombings struck at an intersection close to the German and Syrian embassies, with the German foreign ministry saying an Iraqi security guard was killed and three others wounded.
The Egyptian foreign ministry said the head of its mission\'s security was killed, and several guards were wounded.
Atta said Iraqi security forces had stopped a car primed with a bomb in Masbah, in central Baghdad, apparently which was to be used in an attack on the headquarters of security police tasked with protecting foreign embassies.
The driver was arrested and the bomb defused, he said.
The explosions occurred within minutes of each other, shattering windows in nearby buildings, sparking bursts of gunfire and sending large plumes of smoke billowing across the Iraqi capital.
Two suicide vehicle bombs battered the diplomatic west Baghdad neighbourhood of Mansur followed soon afterwards by a third huge explosion in front of the Iranian embassy in the city centre.
Said Mohammed, who was close to the blast which badly damaged the Egyptian embassy, said guards had tried to stop the attacker.
"Three security guards shouted at the truck to stop moving, and opened fire on the driver," said Mohammed, who then turned to nearby Iraqi army officers in anger and shouted: "How did the truck get here?"
Shards of glass covered the street in front of the embassy building, whose entrance was ravaged by a crater five metres (16 feet) in diameter.
An AFP correspondent, meanwhile, counted five bodies at the scene of the Iranian embassy blast -- three trapped inside burning car wrecks and two being carried into ambulances, one of whom did not have any legs.
"The explosion (at the Iranian embassy) was really strong," said Abu Ahmed, a taxi driver who was inside a shop at the time of the blast.
"They never kill ministers, officials or heads of state. They kill taxi drivers, public employees and shopkeepers. How much longer will this last?"
Iran said the attack caused no casualties among its staff.
"In this blast... fortunately none of the Iranian embassy employees have been hurt, but the embassy building is heavily damaged," Kazem Sheikh Forutan, Iran\'s charge d\'affaires in Baghdad, was quoted as telling the Fars news agency.
The Iranian official described the blasts as an act by "enemies of the two nations" of Iraq and Iran.
Sunday\'s blasts follow major sets of co-ordinated vehicle bombs in the Iraqi capital in August, October, December and January which in all killed more than 400 people.
They came as Iraqi political parties negotiate to form a government, nearly a month after a general election that left four main blocs, none with sufficient seats to form a parliamentary majority on their own.
In particular, ex-premier Iyad Allawi, whose bloc finished first in the March 7 election, has accused Iran of seeking to prevent him becoming prime minister again by inviting all major parties but his secular bloc to Tehran.
Security officials have warned that a protracted period of coalition building could give insurgents an opportunity to further destabilise Iraq.
"This is very bad -- if the political parties do not get an agreement fast, we are going to return to sectarian war," said Ziad, a 47-year-old off-duty army officer, referring to the confessional bloodshed that blighted Iraq in 2006 and 2007.
Ziad\'s car was only 30 metres (60 feet) from the Iranian embassy blast when it happened -- its windows were shattered and the front of the vehicle was crushed from the force of the explosion. He escaped with minor head injuries.
Sunday\'s violence follows an attack blamed on Al-Qaeda at a village south of Baghdad in which security officials said 25 villagers were rounded up and shot execution-style by men dressed in army uniforms early Saturday.
The victims were from Iraqi families linked to an anti-Qaeda militia.
Though the frequency of attacks has dropped significantly across Iraq since its peak in 2006 and 2007, figures released Thursday showed the number of Iraqis killed in violence last month, 367, was the highest this year.
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