Iraqi officials began on Monday to assess the extent of the damage from two bombings in Baghdad the day before that are expected to paralyse government agencies for a considerable period, as the death toll climbed to nearly 160.

The bombers attacked the justice ministry, the Baghdad provincial council and the ministry of municipalities and public works, bodies that many Iraqis regarded as inefficient and inept. More than 500 people were wounded in the bombings, which appeared designed to portray the Shiite-led government as feeble and rudderless ahead of elections scheduled for January.

“These attacks are targeting the symbols of Iraqi sovereignty and they aim to paralyse the government,” said Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign minister, whose ministry was the target of a bombing in August. “These were deliberate and calculated attacks, this was not the work of amateurs. These are professional killers, people who know how the government operates.”

Even as rescue workers continued to pull bodies out of rubble, another attack in Karbala, south of Baghdad, raised fears of a fresh outbreak of violence. According to officials, at least 12 people were killed when a minibus packed with explosives detonated at the entrance of the holy city.

Sunday’s attacks came as the government reeled from the aftermath of the August 19 bombings on the foreign and finance ministries. Officials at the finance ministry, which distributes the budgets of all government agencies, are working in a temporary building and they are not sure yet whether the old building can be rebuilt, said a spokesman.

The wages of government workers were delayed this summer because of the attack, which also hindered reconstruction projects owing to missing paperwork, government officials said.

Foreign ministry workers have returned to some parts of the compound, Mr Zebari said, but the dilapidated façade of the ministry has been an embarrassment for officials, who were eager to prove they were capable of keeping Baghdad secure after the reduction in US forces this summer. The attack also has affected the efforts of Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister, to attract foreign investors.

The justice ministry, which oversees Iraq’s chronically overcrowded prisons, was also severely damaged. It is in the process of deciding which inmates in US custody it wants to keep as the Americans continue to reduce their detainee population.

The damage is almost certain to exacerbate the backlogs in criminal cases, which have long been a grievance for Sunnis. Although they make up about 20 per cent of the Iraqi population, Sunnis account for about 80 per cent of those detained.

The suicide bombers in trucks who struck on Sunday were again able to get remarkably close to government buildings because Mr Maliki’s government in recent months has cut back on security measures in an effort to restore a sense of normality in the capital. Late on Sunday, lorries loaded with cement barriers were seen at both sites in an effort to keep vehicles away from the buildings.

Mr Zebari said Mr Maliki’s cabinet held an emergency meeting on Sunday during which they agreed to increase security around government buildings that could be attack in coming days.

“The government is determined to stand up to this challenge and not be pushed around by these attacks,” Mr Zebari said.

By agreement with the Washington Post

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