BAGHDAD - A slew of bombings targeted Iraqi police in Baghdad on Wednesday morning, including blasts by two suicide bombers who tried to ram their vehicles through police station gates. Iraqi officials said 25 people died and dozens more were wounded in the carnage.
The blasts were aimed at the police, generally considered to be the weakest section of the country's security forces, and emphasized that despite Iraq's security gains, long-term stability in the country is still elusive.
U.S. forces are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of this year, and Wednesday's multi-pronged attack is likely to add to concerns about whether the Iraqi security forces, especially the police, are able to effectively secure the city. Just days ago, authorities said the Iraqi army was delaying a scheduled pullout from the cities over concerns about whether the police were ready to provide security.
In the southern Karradah neighborhood, 13 people died and 25 were wounded in a suicide car bomb attack on a police station, Baghdad police officials said. Smoke could be seen rising from the blast site as ambulances rushed to the scene, their sirens wailing. Iraqi army helicopters circled overhead.
In the mainly Shiite neighborhood of Hurriyah, a suicide car bomber targeted a police station and killed nine people, two Baghdad police officials said. Twenty-seven people were wounded in that blast.
Officials said the suicide bombers both exploded their vehicles at the outer entrances into the police stations.
"The scene was horrific," said Salim Ghadban, who was having breakfast near the Karradah police station when he heard a loud explosion.
"We saw terrified people, some injured, running in our direction, and we rushed to the attacked police station and saw burned bodies and charred cars," he said. "We helped cover the burned bodies until the ambulances arrived."
The attack in Hurriyah was especially remarkable because the neighborhood is a stronghold of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. It is almost entirely surrounded by blast walls, and access is tightly restricted through four entrances manned by the Iraqi army.
Also, a roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol in western Baghdad, killing two policemen and wounding another five, police officials said.
A parked car bomb exploded in western Baghdad targeting a police patrol but killed one civilian and injured five people. Three people were also injured by a roadside bomb that hit a police patrol in western Baghdad.
The damage could have been even worse and more widespread. Iraqi police defused two car bombs in separate areas in southwestern and northern Baghdad, and a roadside bomb was discovered on the road leading to the police academy in eastern Baghdad, a Baghdad police official said.
A hospital official confirmed the causalities. The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but such attacks are usually the work of Sunni militant groups such as al Qaeda in Iraq. They often target security forces in their attempt to destabilize the country and sow havoc.
The military spokesman for Baghdad, Qassim al-Moussawi, blamed al Qaeda for the attacks and said they were an attempt to show people that the militants are still active.
"Every three months or so, al Qaeda mobilizes all its resources to launch such attacks in one day to say that al Qaeda is still able to attack and threaten security posts," he said.
Wednesday's attacks came two days after a series of explosions targeting security officials killed 10 people in Baghdad.
The police are an especially vulnerable target among Iraq's security forces because they usually do not have the heavy weapons or equipment that the Iraqi army has. The military has received the bulk of the U.S. training assistance since the war began.
Under a 2008 security pact, all U.S. forces are to leave the country by the end of this year, although a large American diplomatic force will remain.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have been discussing whether to have a long-term but small U.S. military presence in the country after December in order to train Iraqi security forces. But they have been unable to agree on whether to give the troops the legal protections that the American government requires, and time is rapidly running out for any agreement to take effect.
"We urge the security forces to be on high alert ahead of the U.S. withdrawal," al-Moussawi said. "Security stability in Iraq seems to be far away, because we are still facing challenges."