BAGHDAD — Attackers unleashed a carefully planned assault with car bombs and gunmen disguised as police on the Iraqi Justice Ministry on Thursday, killing at least 24 people as hundreds of others crouched terrified in their offices.
The large and complex raid in the heart of downtown Baghdad came less than a week before the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, showing how vulnerable this country remains to insurgent attacks.
The fighting lasted about an hour, ending with security forces storming the four-story building after some of the gunmen detonated suicide vests, according to police and witnesses. None of the attackers survived.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida’s Iraqi arm. The group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, frequently uses car bombs, suicide bombers and coordinated blasts in an effort to undermine Iraqis’ confidence in the Shiite-led government.
The attack began shortly after midday in Baghdad’s Allawi area, a largely commercial district that is home to the Iraqi National Museum and the city’s main bus station.
At least two blasts, including one car bomb and another believed to be from a suicide bomber, went off near the Justice Ministry.
Two other car bombs exploded nearby in what police believe was an effort to confuse the authorities. One struck near the bus station and the other hit the headquarters for a VIP protection force that provides bodyguards for lawmakers, government ministers and other senior officials.
Amid the chaos, approximately six gunmen wearing police uniforms charged inside the ministry building, according to a police officer who was among the troops sent to clear the area. A gun battle soon broke out between the intruders and security forces.