Iraqi security on high alert

BAGHDAD: Iraqi security forces were on high alert on Monday, a day after twin suicide vehicle bombs blamed on Al-Qaeda killed 99 people and blasted government offices in Baghdad.

More than 700 people were also wounded in the near-simultaneous attacks, which the government said were carried out by Al-Qaeda and supporters of ex-dictator Saddam Hussein's banned Baath Party.

US President Barack Obama led international condemnation of Sunday's attacks and offered his condolences by telephone to both Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani.

In Iraq's deadliest violence for more than two years, the twin bombings left streets littered with charred bodies and torn-off limbs, and buildings in ruins.

One of the attackers exploded a truck bomb at a busy intersection near the justice and municipalities ministries, while the other detonated a car bomb opposite the nearby Baghdad provincial government offices.

Several people railed against the government and the security forces in the aftermath of the attacks, blaming them for the carnage and accusing them of negligence.

"Where were the security forces?" demanded Mohammed Radhi, who was searching for his sister, a justice ministry employee.

"Where were their searches? The government bought devices to search cars for explosives, but they don't work, and the security forces didn't do their job."

Distraught ambulance driver Adil Sami too laid the blame on politicians. "Every time politicians disagree, they send us a deadly bomb," he said. Related article: Iraq's bloodshed

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh and Major General Qassim Atta, spokesman for the Iraqi army's Baghdad operations, both said 99 people had been killed in the attacks.

A senior official in the health ministry, which bases its toll on combined figures from hospitals, confirmed the number of dead and added that more than 700 people were wounded.

Atta added that the truck was carrying one tonne of explosives and the car was packed with 700 kilograms (more than 1,500 pounds) of explosives.

The toll was the highest in a coordinated attack in Iraq since four truck bombings on August 14, 2007, killed more than 400 people in two Kurdish villages.

Shortly after the attacks, Maliki visited the site of the provincial government attack, where he spoke to officials and security officers.

"These cowardly terrorist attacks must not affect the determination of the Iraqi people to continue their struggle against the remnants of the dismantled regime and Al-Qaeda terrorists," Maliki said in a later statement.

He said the attacks would not affect the political process or parliamentary elections due in January, and promised to punish those behind the bombings.

Thick smoke billowed over the stricken area and fires could be seen from two buildings whose windows had been shattered by the force of the blasts, felt for several kilometres (miles) across Baghdad.

Rescue workers in Salhiyeh initially had to cover dead bodies in blankets before picking them up because they were too hot to touch, an AFP correspondent said.

The explosions were a grim reminder of deadly truck bombings which shook the ministries of foreign affairs and finance on August 19, when at least 95 people were killed.

Baghdad blamed those attacks on supporters of the Baath party, who it says were given safe haven in neighbouring Syria, dramatically damaging ties between the countries.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen condemned as "reprehensible" the attacks, saying in a statement: "On behalf of NATO, I strongly condemn the bombing that occurred today in Baghdad, which caused huge loss of innocent life."

The European Union's Swedish presidency expressed its disgust, while France offered its "full solidarity" and Britain said the attacks had "no justification".

Iran joined the condemnation. "These terrorist actions aim to wreck stability and the process of reinforcing democratic structures," a foreign ministry official said.

Sunday's twin bombings came ahead of a meeting of senior Iraqi political leaders over a stalled election law, amid growing concerns that the country's January 16 election will have to be delayed.

Prospects for consensus appeared grim after the meeting concluded without agreement, and Maliki is to hold further discussions with Talabani and parliament speaker Iyad al-Samarrai on Monday.