BAGHDAD — Insurgents wearing military uniforms stormed Iraq's central bank Sunday during an apparent robbery attempt, battling security forces in a three-hour standoff after bombs exploded nearby in a coordinated daylight attack that left as many as 26 people dead.
The assault on Iraq's top financial institution stoked fears that insurgents are taking advantage of political deadlock after inconclusive March 7 national elections to try to derail security gains as the United States prepares to withdraw its forces by the end of next year.
The 325-member Parliament was due to convene today, but analysts have said agreement on a new government could still be months away.
An Iraqi military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, blamed the attack on al-Qaida in Iraq but said no money had been stolen from the bank, which holds gold deposits as well as U.S. and Iraqi currency.
The violence began with the bombings, although there were conflicting reports about the number and nature of the blasts.
The first bomb went off on the road near an electrical generator, Moussawi said. Insurgents wearing army uniforms then tried to enter the bank through two entrances, exchanging gunfire with the guards.
He said three suicide bombers detonated explosives vests at the main entrance of the bank, while two other militants were killed by security forces at the second gate.
Iraqi security forces then stormed the building, prompting a standoff that lasted at least three hours, according Moussawi.
An unknown number of attackers reached a higher floor and set fire to documents and may have escaped by blending in with the bank employees, he added, saying the motive appeared to be to steal the bank's deposits, then blow up the building.
Local police officers said a bomb in a parked car also exploded about 900 yards from the bank.
Police and hospital officials put the casualty toll at 26 dead and more than 60 wounded.
Violent robberies that bear some of the hallmarks of politically motivated attacks have been on the rise in Iraq, as sectarian violence ebbs. Officials have attributed at least some to cash-strapped militants trying to raise money for their operations.
But Sunday's attack appeared also to have a political motive as insurgents led by al-Qaida in Iraq seek to undermine confidence in the U.S.-backed government and other state institutions.