Four bombs decimated as many police stations while one car bombing devastated the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) offices.
US officials said the choreographed bombings, which caused vast palls of smoke to tower over the city, are the bluntest evidence yet that non-Iraqis are fighting against the occupying forces in the war-ravaged country.
“We have not seen attacks we could attribute to foreign fighters before. We have seen those today,” US Brigadier General Mark Hertling told AFP.
A man, allegedly claiming to be Syrian, was captured at one of the police stations after being shot as he got out of a car and tried to hurl a hand grenade, said Hertling.
“He’s a foreign fighter. He had a Syrian passport and the policemen claim that as he was shot and fell that he said was Syrian,” he added.
The Iraqi Governing Council’s Deputy Interior minister Ahmad Ibrahim told the news conference that the wounded fighter was unconscious in hospital.
Monday’s bombs were detonated during the morning rush hour. The majority of casualties were civilians but 65 of the wounded were police.
“We have not seen attacks we could attribute to foreign fighters before. We have seen those today”
US Brigadier General Mark Hertling
The blast near the ICRC building killed 12 people and wounded at least 15, an ICRC official said. One witness said the bomb appeared to have been packed into an ambulance.
In the northeast of the Iraqi capital, a US military policeman said seven people had been killed in a blast near a police station.
Journalists at the scene of the explosion saw four people carried out of the rubble, but it was not clear if any of them were alive.
Another car bomb exploded killing several officers outside a police station in Baghdad’s Karkh neighbourhood, a policeman said.
A white car drew up at the al-Elam police station and exploded at 8:30 am (0530 GMT), said Abd al-Zahar Salim.
“We found many pieces of my colleagues on the ground,” he said, as flesh was still scattered over the asphalt where 16 burnt-out vehicles smouldered and ambulances sped to the station.
The car crashed into the station’s parking lot and burst into flames, as 40 policemen gathered to start work.
Two American military vehicles were in the lot and two US soldiers were also there, he said.
Reuters photographer Akram Salih said he had counted 12 bodies at a central Baghdad hospital, where officials said one belonged to a foreigner whose nationality was unclear.
A US soldier inspects the al-Elam
Witnesses said the first blast went off at about 8:30 am (0530 GMT), when a car drove towards the ICRC building.
“I was standing at the gate when a car came driving very fast and smashed against the wall and exploded,” said an ICRC guard who gave his name as Sabah.
“I saw an ambulance car coming very fast towards the barrier and it exploded,” another guard said.
Staff said that more casualties were avoided because the start of the working day had been pushed back to 9am for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
A Reuters photographer said he saw at least three bodies lying among debris near the ICRC explosion.
“The force of the blast was so huge their clothes were blown right off,” the photographer Chris Helgren said.
An Iraqi woman said two of her children had been wounded in the same explosion. “We were sleeping and the house came down on our heads,” Muntaha Khalil said.
Witnesses to another blast said they had seen a vehicle heading towards a police station in the Baya district in southwest Baghdad.
US officials later confirmed that a soldier was killed in that attack and six injured.
Chaotic scenes abound
“It was a Landcruiser car that was speeding towards the police station. The (guards) fired on it four times. It turned right and blew up,” local resident Muhammad Ali said.
“The force of the blast was so huge their clothes were blown right off”
Reuters photographer Chris Helgren
Three wrecked cars were outside the building, one of them completely destroyed. A car engine lay smoking nearby.
The explosions plunged the capital city into chaos on the first day of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, as ambulance sirens wailed and black smoke billowed into the air.
The blasts occurred a day after more than a dozen rockets slammed into the al-Rashid hotel, seemingly protected inside a heavily fortified compound which also houses the headquarters of the United States-led occupation administration.
Visiting US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was at the hotel during the attack and narrowly escaped.
But a US colonel was killed and 17 people wounded in the attack on the heart of American power in Iraq.
Two explosions followed the attack later on Sunday. No casualties were reported from these blasts.
In another blow, three US soldiers were killed and four wounded late Sunday in attacks around the capital.
Previous attacks on the UN headquarters and the Turkish and Jordanian embassies have underlined the increasing resistance US-led forces and foreigners are facing in Iraq.