BAGHDAD: A suicide attacker in a vehicle packed with explosives killed at least five people at the interior ministry in Baghdad on Monday as a worsening political standoff stoked sectarian tensions.
The blast, which left dozens wounded, came just days after the capital was struck by its deadliest violence in more than four months and as US Vice President Joe Biden urged dialogue between Iraqi politicians to resolve their differences.
The attacker took advantage of guards opening the ministry compound’s main gates to allow in electrical maintenance workers to ram his explosives-filled car through and set it off, a ministry official said.
At least five people were killed and 27 wounded, doctors at the Neurological and Al-Kindi hospitals, where casualties were taken, said. The interior ministry official said five people were dead and 39 hurt.
Among the casualties were at least two policemen killed and 14 wounded, the officials said.
The blast came after a wave of attacks across Baghdad on Thursday killed 60 people, and violence in the provinces the same day claimed another seven lives. It was the deadliest day in Iraq since mid-August.
Iraq is mired in political dispute with authorities calling for the arrest of Sunni Arab Vice President Tareq Al-Hashemi on charges he ran a death squad, accusations Hashemi denies.
Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki has also called for the sacking of his Sunni deputy Saleh Al-Mutlak, who has denounced the premier as a dictator "worse than Saddam Hussein".
The Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, to which both Hashemi and Mutlak belong, has boycotted the cabinet and parliament.
Hashemi, holed up at the official guesthouse of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in the country’s autonomous Kurdish region, told AFP in an interview on Sunday he would not go to Baghdad to stand trial and raised the prospect of fleeing Iraq.
Asked if he would return to Baghdad to face trial, Hashemi told AFP: "Of course not." The 69-year-old attributed his refusal to travel to the capital to poor security and politicisation of the justice system.
He said most of his guards had been arrested and had their weapons confiscated, adding: "There is no security for the vice president. How can I come back to Baghdad if I cannot secure myself?
"The Iraqi judicial council is under the control and the influence of the central government, and this is a big problem," Hashemi added. "That is why I asked to move the case to Kurdistan… Justice here will not be politicised."
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said Ankara will not turn Hashemi away if he requests asylum, but that he should stay in Iraq.
"I have no intention to leave Iraq at this time, unless my personal security is endangered," Hashemi said in Sunday’s interview. "Then, we will talk about this."
Biden, President Barack Obama’s point man on Iraq, has made a flurry of calls to Iraqi leaders this week, urging them to mend their fences.
In calls to Maliki on Sunday and Kurdish leader Massud Barzani on Saturday, Biden "exchanged views… on the current political climate in Iraq and reiterated our support for ongoing efforts to convene a dialogue among Iraqi political leaders," the White House said in a statement.