JUNE 20 2010 19:00h

Baghdad suicide bombers kill 26 in crowded street

Iraqi fire fighters cover victims following twin car bombs in which mainly women and traffic police were killed in the Mansour district of Baghdad on June 20, 2010.

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Suicide bombers in two cars killed 26 people and wounded 53 in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Sunday when they drove down a crowded street and blew themselves up simultaneously, security officials said.

The bombers targeted the Baghdad branch of the Trade Bank of Iraq, the conduit for much of the government's foreign exchange transactions and its dealings with investors.

The bank is on a busy thoroughfare through the mainly Sunni Arab district of Mansur that provides access from western Iraq to the fortified Green Zone government and embassy compound in the city centre.

The morning attack came just a week after five suicide bombers stormed the Central Bank of Iraq killing 18 people during a four-hour siege and underlined the dangers of a resurgence of violence in the face of a persistent political vacuum more than three months after a general election.

"The report of the bomb disposal team confirmed that the two attacks that happened in Mansur today were carried out by suicide bombers who drove the car bombs," Baghdad's operations command said.

"Each car was loaded with 80 kilogrammes (176 pounds) of ammonium nitrate," the command said in a statement. "They were detonated simultaneously. They targeted the Trade Bank of Iraq."

Five of the branch's guards were among the dead and six among the wounded, TBI chairman Hussein al-Uzri said, adding the "cowardly attack" would not prevent the bank opening for business as usual on Monday.

"This attack on our headquarters in Baghdad ... was an act of cowardice by malevolent forces who wish to undermine the progress that Iraq is steadily making towards stability, peace and economic prosperity for all its people," Uzri said in a statement.

"However, this cowardly attack was a failure. The Trade Bank of Iraq, and Iraq itself, are undeterred," he said.

"The work of building Iraq’s economic strength -- which the Trade Bank of Iraq is doing so much, and very successfully, to support, and in which we are making significant progress year by year -- goes on uninterrupted."

There have been a string of deadly attacks on key administrative or economic targets over the past year.

In the last five months of 2009, the finance, foreign and justice ministries were hit along with the headquarters of the Baghdad provincial government.

The attacks have given rise to suspicions of collusion that Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari again raised on Sunday in an interview with AFP.

"All these attacks, especially when government institutions are targeted, one can only think they would not be able to do that unless they have insiders or there is some collusion," Zebari said.

Sunday's twin bombs marked the deadliest day in Iraq since May 10 when four bombs in the mainly Shiite central city of Hilla and other attacks killed more than 100 people -- the highest toll of this year.

US and Iraqi officials had warned of the dangers of an upsurge of violence if negotiations on forming a new governing coalition dragged on too long, giving insurgent groups an opportunity to further destabilise the country.

Three and a half months after a general election which gave no single bloc an overall parliamentary majority, the two lists which won most seats are still bickering over who should be the next prime minister.

Both former premier Iyad Allawi and incumbent Nuri al-Maliki insist that they are best placed to tackle the insecurity still rocking the country.

Allawi, a secular Shiite whose Iraqiya list came out with most votes, sweeping Sunni Arab provinces where the anti-US insurgency has been strong, says acknowledgement of his right to lead the next government is essential if Sunnis are not to be further estranged from the political process.

Maliki, who has made his political reputation out of taking a strong hand to Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias alike, argues that he needs to remain in power with full authority to tackle the mounting violence.

Government figures showed 337 people were killed as a result of violence in May, the fourth time this year the overall death toll has been higher than in the corresponding month of 2009.