Baghdad bombs kill 19, police battle suicide attackers
By Aseel Kami and Kareem Raheem
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Twin car bombs hit central Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 19 people, and security forces fought off a separate attack inside a police station by two suicide bombers trying to free al Qaeda prisoners.
The major assault underscored the seriousness of Iraq's struggle with insurgents more than seven months after the last U.S. troops left behind a country still grappling with political instability and sectarian tensions.
Clouds of dark smoke rose above the centre of the capital where the car bombs exploded minutes apart, leaving the dead and wounded lying in the street or slumped inside a damaged minibus, witnesses and police said.
As security forces began to help the victims, at least two suicide bombers dressed as police officers got into a nearby police station, where al Qaeda prisoners were being held, and tried to free them, two security sources said.
It was unclear how many people had been killed or wounded in the assault, but both bombers had been killed, one security official said.
"Their aim was to take hostages in order to release major al-Qaeda prisoners," one senior security source said. "Most officers went to the floor above them to fight them, which is why they failed."
The attack coincides with a surge in violence in Iraq and comes as bloodshed in neighboring Syria is escalating. Iraqi officials have warned that some Sunni Muslim insurgents are heading to Syria and al Qaeda's local Iraqi affiliate has called on its followers to intensify their campaign.
Al Qaeda's Iraqi wing, Islamic State of Iraq, was badly weakened by the loss of top commanders in the war against U.S. troops, but the insurgents have carried out at least one major assault a month since the U.S. withdrawal in December. Continued...