BAGHDAD - Gunmen wearing military uniforms stormed Iraq's central bank yesterday in an apparent robbery attempt, battling security forces in a three-hour standoff after bombs exploded nearby in a daylight attack that left at least 15 people dead.
The assault on Iraq's top financial institution stoked fears that insurgents are taking advantage of political deadlock after inconclusive March 7 national elections to try to derail security gains.
The 325-member parliament was due to convene today, but analysts have said agreement on a new government could still be months away.
Iraqi military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi blamed the attack on al Qaeda in Iraq. He said no money had been stolen from the bank, which holds gold deposits as well as U.S. and Iraqi currency.
The violence began with the bombings - which sent plumes of smoke over the city skyline - although there were conflicting reports about the number and nature of the blasts. Some Iraqi police and hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, put the casualty toll as high as 26 dead and more than 60 wounded.
The first bomb went off on the road near an electrical generator, al-Moussawi said. Insurgents wearing army uniforms then tried to enter the bank through two entrances, exchanging gunfire with the guards.
He said three suicide bombers detonated their explosives vests at the main entrance of the bank, while two other militants were killed by security forces at the second gate.
Iraqi security forces then stormed the building, prompting a standoff that lasted at least three hours, according to al-Moussawi's account.
An unknown number of attackers managed to get to a higher floor and set a fire to burn some documents and may have escaped by blending in with the bank employees, he added, saying the motive appeared to be to steal the bank's deposits, then blow up the building.