A suicide car bomber Monday destroyed the headquarters of a Shiite religious foundation in Baghdad, killing at least 26 people and reviving fears of new sectarian tensions in a country plunged into a severe political crisis. This is the highest toll for a single attack in Baghdad since the explosion of a car bomb on January 27 near a hospital, which had 31 deaths.
The attack, which also wounded about 60 people, took place in Bab al-Muazzam in central Baghdad.
Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President of Parliament, the Sunni Osama al-Noujaifi, condemned the attack and called for calm.
The building was "totally destroyed," deputy director of the foundation, Sheikh Sami al-Massoudi said, stressing that "martyrs are buried under the ruins."
At the scene of the attack, dozens of ambulances and rescue workers were trying to evacuate the wounded and search the rubble, while relatives gathered nearby.
Mohamed, owner of a restaurant opposite to the targeted site, crying, said: "It was a 4X4 white, he (the bomber) was going too fast and struck the door of the foundation and exploded. Suddenly I saw two of my employees dead before me," he added.
Iraq has been facing for six months a severe political crisis between Maliki and Kurdish and several Sunni leaders who criticize his "authoritarianism." The tone has hardened in recent weeks and the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr and the secular Iraqiya bloc have called in recent days to Maliki to resign.