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Suicide car bombers kill 41 in central Baghdad

By Muhanad Mohammed

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Three suicide bombers detonated car bombs within moments of each other in a coordinated attack on foreign embassies in central Baghdad on Sunday, killing as many as 41 people and wounding more than 200.

The blasts near the Iranian, Egyptian and German embassies followed mortar attacks on the Iraqi capital's Green Zone, home to government buildings, official residences and foreign embassies. On Friday, gunmen slaughtered 24 people in a Sunni village south of Baghdad.

Authorities had warned of a possible escalation of violence because of rising tension after a March 7 parliamentary election that Iraqis hoped would bring stability to their country produced no clear winner.

The outcome promises weeks of potentially divisive talks to form a government. Secularist former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's cross-sectarian Iraqiya coalition won two seats more than the State of Law bloc led by Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Such drawn-out talks could leave a power vacuum for insurgents to exploit, analysts have warned. Sectarian violence exploded when politicians took more than five months to form a government after parliamentary elections in 2005.

"The terrorists seized this time between the end of the elections and the forming of the government to target the political process," said civil defense official Abdul-Rasoul al-Zaidi.

One bomb blew up in front of the main gate of the Iranian embassy, just outside the Green Zone, destroying about 30 cars. The Iraqi Finance Ministry said the nearby offices of its budget directorate and the government real estate bank were damaged.

"This is enough. We are tired of explosions, we do not feel safe," said Jassim Mohammed, 39, who was wounded in the head, arm and leg. "We go out of our homes and we do not know whether we will come back or not."

A man who went to the scene began crying and moaning when he realized his brother's mini-bus had been destroyed by the blast. "Why did they kill him? He got married a week ago," he said.

At the Egyptian embassy, the bomber rammed his car into a concrete blast wall, causing a 3 meter (10 ft) deep cater in the street.

"The car crashed into the blast wall and the guards of the embassy shot the terrorist but he went and blew himself up," Baghdad security spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi said. "The same thing happened with the Iranian embassy."

Moussawi said Iraqi security forces defused a fourth car bomb in the al-Masbah district of central Baghdad and arrested the would-be bomber.

Germany's Foreign Ministry said an Iraqi security guard working for the German embassy was among the dead.

"I completely condemn the bomb attacks in Baghdad," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. "Our solidarity goes out to the Iraqi people and we will continue to support their efforts for peace and democracy."

MORTARS IN THE GREEN ZONE

An Interior Ministry source said the three bombings killed 41 people and wounded 249. Moussawi put the toll at 20 dead and 256 wounded.

The car bombings followed a series of other incidents in the Iraqi capital. Two mortar rounds landed in the Green Zone early on Sunday and four on Saturday night.

A roadside bomb that targeted a police patrol in the capital on Sunday wounded five officers and five civilians. A bomb attached to a civilian vehicle in Baghdad's southern Saidiya district killed two people on Saturday.

Security forces had predicted a rise in violence after the tight election race exposed the depth of Iraq's sectarian divide. Allawi's Iraqiya bloc won with strong support in Sunni-dominated provinces in the north and west, while Maliki won in predominantly Shi'ite provinces in the south.

"Everyone expected an attack. It is an attempt to influence the negotiations to form the next government," Baghdad political analyst Hazem al-Nuaimi said. "The aim is clear, which is to show the weakness and fragility of the structure of the state."

On Friday gunmen invaded the Sunni village of Albusaifi, south of Baghdad, and killed 24 people, many of them execution-style with a gunshot to the head.

Authorities said many of the victims were members of the Sons of Iraq, former insurgents who joined U.S. forces to fight al Qaeda militants, helping to turn the tide of the war.

(Additional reporting by Aseel Kami, Suadad al-Salhy and Waleed Ibrahim, writing by Jim Loney and Ian Simpson, editing by David Stamp)

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