Armed men have assaulted an office of Iraq’s transportation ministry in northeast Baghdad, killing at least 20 people and briefly taking a number of civil servants hostage, security officials have said.
The attack was mounted by eight armed men, said police and an interior ministry official on Thursday. Four out of the eight are believed to have been killed in clashes with security forces.
“A terrorist group infiltrated the company, which is next to our building,” said Kamal Amin, spokesman for the human rights ministry, which has offices next door.
“For the safety of our employees, we have taken all necessary security measures and we have evacuated our building.”
Security forces sealed off the surrounding area, which is home to other government offices, including the headquarters of the transport ministry and a human rights ministry building.
A spokesman for the human rights ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment made by the AFP news agency.
No group claimed responsibility for the assault, but fighters affiliated with the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have in the past mounted similar armed attacks on Iraqi government buildings.
Elsewhere in the Iraqi capital on Thursday, bombings near a market and a restaurant in the Shia-majority neighbourhoods of Kasra and Talbiyah killed six people, security and medical officials said.
They struck just hours after several car bombs ripped through Baghdad Jadidah, Shuala and Talbiyah, all of which are predominantly Shia, leaving nine people dead on Wednesday evening.
Attacks on Wednesday also hit the outskirts of the capital, as well as the northern cities of Mosul and Tuz Khurmatu, killing seven others.
Recent violence in Iraq has pushed the death toll for January past 900 with elections looming in three months and security forces have been grappling with intensifying violence and an extended standoff with anti-government fighters in western Anbar province.
Anti-government fighters also hold all of Fallujah, on Baghdad’s doorstep. ISIL has been involved in the fighting, and witnesses and tribal leaders in Fallujah say the group has tightened its grip on the city in recent days, but other armed groups have also taken part in the battles.
The standoff has forced more than 140,000 people to flee their homes, the UN refugee agency said, describing this as the worst displacement in Iraq since the 2006-2008 sectarian conflict.