BAGHDAD — Insurgents struck at the heart of the Iraqi government on Wednesday in huge and coordinated bombings that exposed a new vulnerability after Americans ceded control for security here on June 30. Nearby American soldiers stood by helplessly — despite the needs of hundreds of wounded — waiting for a request for help from Iraqi officials that apparently never came.
“As much as we want to come, we have to wait to be asked now,” said an American officer who arrived at one blast site almost three hours later and who spoke in return for anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters. At one blast site, American soldiers snapped pictures of the devastation before ducking out of the streets.
After weeks of escalating violence in Iraq, powerful truck bombs killed at least 95 people and wounded nearly 600 people at the Foreign and Finance Ministries in central Baghdad, assaults on symbols of government that lent an air of siege to the capital. The bombs crippled the downtown area, closed highways and two main bridges over the Tigris River and clogged hospitals with wounded.
The bombings, the worst since American forces handed over security responsibilities to Iraq at the end of June, shook the Iraqi government’s confidence that it was ready and able to secure the nation.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki called for a reassessment of his security measures, calling the attacks “a vengeful response” to his recent, optimistic order to remove blast walls from the streets of Baghdad.
A Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, was quoted by Reuters as telling American and Iraqi military officers: “We must face the facts. We must admit our mistakes, just as we celebrate our victories.”
And Baghdad’s security spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, told Iraqiya state television, according to Reuters, that attacks were “a security breach for which Iraqi forces must take most of the blame.”
The explosions, one close to the heavily fortified Green Zone and the other less than three miles away, sent plumes of smoke billowing over the capital, ripped a gaping hole in a compound wall and set cars ablaze, trapping drivers inside.
“The whole thing is just so disgusting,” the United States ambassador, Christopher R. Hill, said as he read reports from his staff about the extent of the damage while on an official visit to the northern city of Kirkuk. “They’re just psychopathic.”
Around 11 a.m., the two truck bombs struck the Foreign Ministry and the Finance Ministry within three minutes, officials said, sending white smoke into the sky. The second, more powerful blast was so intense that parts of a main highway near the Finance Ministry collapsed, the rubble littered with shrapnel and splotches of blood. It shattered windows inside the nearby Green Zone and shook houses in many parts of the city. At least 60 people were killed at the Foreign Ministry and at least 35 at the Finance Ministry.
At roughly the same time, attacks in other parts of the city, including three roadside bombs and some mortar and rocket fire, left 13 people wounded, Iraqi officials said.
Though no one took credit for the attacks, Iraqis doled out blame both to their government, now fully responsible for security, and to the United States for coming to Iraq in the first place.
“This country is finished,” said one resident, Jamil Jaber, 45, whose five-room home behind the Foreign Ministry had been flattened, crushing a 4-month-old infant. “It’s just robbery and killing.” He cursed the United States and former President George W. Bush.
Since the beginning of July, bombings in northern Iraq — for which officials blamed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and its affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq — have killed at least 140 people. The attacks on Wednesday might have been a message from these groups that they could also assail the capital.
In the attack at the Foreign Ministry, a suicide bomber stopped his truck against the ministry compound wall just off the busy intersection, according to an American military officer speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the bombing. The driver then detonated two tons of explosives.
“We heard a huge explosion at 11 a.m., and suddenly we started to hear voices of employees screaming in pain,” a top Foreign Ministry official said in a phone interview, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the blast. “Dust has covered everything.”
He added: “The secondary ceilings, doors, water cycles, offices and the air-conditioning system have collapsed over our heads. The whole ministry was destroyed. Only the ministry building structure survived the blast.”
The blast left a crater 30 feet deep and 60 feet wide, and it set fire to cars and other vehicles clogging the road, trapping their occupants in the inferno.
One body could still be seen burning in a car while at least 12 others had been piled onto a pickup truck to be driven away. The blast shattered the front wall of 10-story main building of the ministry, leaving offices wrecked and people trapped inside. One ministry worker was seen shouting desperately for help from the seventh floor. On the third floor, an entire slab of concrete appeared to have crashed to the ground.
Bodies were lined up on the sidewalk and covered with blankets, scraps of cardboard, even tree branches.
“This is our misery, and this is our flesh,” an Iraqi screamed.
Many people were injured at an apartment building across from the ministry. A woman on the sixth floor had been slashed by a ceiling fan that fell on her in the chaos, said Tariq Qader, 35, who said he rescued her.
Nearby, a girls’ secondary school, closed for summer vacations, was badly damaged. After the blast, Kurdish bodyguards protecting the foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, nervously fanned out in the streets outside. American helicopters circled the sky for hours.
Qassim Atta, a spokesman for the Baghdad operations command, speaking on the state-owned television station Iraqiya, said, “The situation is under control.” He added, “We say that the battle is ongoing, and there are days when we win and days when we lose.”
He blamed the “remnants of the Baath Party, criminal gangs and taqfiris” with the latter being Sunni extremists. He said they want to “influence the security and political process.”
These attacks, in the heart of the capital and against crucial ministries, one headed by a Kurd and another by a Shiite, appeared to carry a number of messages.
They happened two days after the commander of the United States military in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, said American forces would be deployed along with Iraqi forces and Kurdish pesh merga troops in northern Iraq to prevent Qaeda-linked militants from exploiting friction between Arabs and Kurds.
The attacks also coincided with a state visit by Mr. Maliki to neighboring Syria. In the capital, Damascus, Mr. Maliki was expected to urge the authorities to do more to stop the flow of militants through its borders with Iraq. He was also expected to ask the Syrian authorities to clamp down on the activities of loyalists to the former of Saddam Husseinwho are based there. They remain unreconciled with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and continue to foment unrest inside Iraq.
The attacks came amid intense political jockeying and pressure on Mr. Maliki from both Iran and the United States as to the shape of his next coalition in the upcoming national elections in January.
Iran wants Mr. Maliki to build a reconstituted version of his current Shiite-led coalition while the United States feels that a broad national coalition that would encompass not only Sunnis but also those who may have embraced the insurgency previously would be the only way forward for Iraq. “If you stay sectarian you push violence and problems to the future,” a senior American official said Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.