BAGHDAD — Suicide attackers detonated three car bombs in quick succession near foreign embassies on Sunday, killing more than 40 people in coordinated strikes that Iraqi officials said were intended to disrupt efforts to form a new government.
The bombings followed the execution-style killings of 24 villagers in a Sunni area two days earlier, a spike in violence that suggests insurgents are seizing on the political uncertainty after the recent election to try to destabilize the country as U.S. troops prepare to leave. No clear winner emerged from the March 7 vote.
Sunday's explosions went off within minutes of each other, starting about 11 a.m. One struck near the Iranian Embassy and two hit an area that houses several diplomatic missions, including the Egyptian Consulate and the German and Spanish embassies. It was not known whether diplomatic staff were among the victims.
Authorities said they foiled two other attacks aimed at diplomatic targets by stopping the would-be bombers' vehicles and defusing the explosives.
Stunned victims in bloody clothes were loaded into ambulances as smoke rose over the city.
"I saw children screaming," said Hassan Karim, 32, who owns a clothing shop in Baghdad. "Cars were crashing into each other in streets, trying to find a way to flee."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although multiple, coordinated bombings in the capital are a hallmark of al-Qaida in Iraq.
The violence suggests insurgents are trying to regroup in the political vacuum left after the elections.
Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's cross-sectarian bloc tapped into heavy Sunni support to come in just two seats ahead of the mainly Shiite list of the incumbent, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But neither side has enough seats to govern alone, which means they are scrambling to cobble together enough parliamentary support to form a government.
Iraq's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the bombings were an attempt to inject more turmoil into the political scene as the election front-runners try to forge a coalition government.
Many of those killed Sunday were motorists and pedestrians near the consular buildings in Baghdad's central governmental hub and an embassy row in west Baghdad.
None of the compounds was breached, but the force of the blast by the Egyptian Consulate tore down a wall. The deadliest attack was at the Iranian Embassy in central Baghdad, surrounded by key government institutions, where 23 were killed. Eighteen died in the twin bombings at the German and Egyptian buildings, located about five minutes apart on Emirat Street in Baghdad's Mansour district.
The Spanish embassy building suffered "considerable damage" but nobody was injured, the Spanish government said.
The attackers wore suicide vests and drove cars laden with explosives, said Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for the city's operations command center. Guards at the Egyptian Consulate opened fire on one of the attackers as he drove toward them, but they were unable to stop him.
At least two other planned attacks were thwarted.
Security forces fatally shot a man wearing a suicide belt before he could detonate a fourth bomb-rigged car near the former Germany Embassy, which is now a bank, Moussawi said. A fifth would-be bomber was captured on his way to the area where two of the explosions happened, said a senior Iraqi security official.
Information from the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.