By Suadad al-Salhy
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Car bombs killed at least 112 people in the heart of the Iraqi capital Tuesday, striking government buildings despite a security crackdown after a series of high-profile attacks.
The blasts, most detonated by suicide bombers, were a brutal reminder of the potency of Iraq's stubborn insurgency ahead of next year's election and an auction of oilfield contracts due this weekend.
"We had entered a shop seconds before the blast, the ceiling caved in on us, and we lost consciousness. Then I heard screams and sirens all around," said Mohammed Abdul Ridha, one of the 197 wounded in the series of at least four blasts.
Smoke billowed and sirens wailed as emergency workers removed the dead in black body bags.
A suicide bomber blew up his vehicle in the car park of a courthouse, after getting through a checkpoint, police said.
Another explosion struck a temporary building used by the Finance Ministry after its main premises were devastated in a bombing in August. It was unclear whether this blast involved a suicide bomber.
A third bomber blew himself and his car up near a training center for judges.
The first blast occurred in the southern Baghdad district of Doura about 30 minutes before the other three. It, too, was a suicide bomber in a car packed with explosives.
Iraq's Oil Ministry said it would not cancel a planned tender of oilfield development contracts on December 11 and 12, which executives from the world's main oil companies were due to attend. The deals are seen as crucial to Iraq's efforts to raise the cash required to rebuild after years of war and destruction.
Workers outside the ministry who had been preparing the premises for the auction fled to safety after the first of three blasts shook the building.
Inside, windows rattled and walls shook, but employees quickly returned to last-minute electrical work and painting.
NEW INSURGENT TACTIC
The blasts were the first large, high-profile explosions in Baghdad since October 25, when two massive truck bombs killed 155 people at the Justice Ministry and the offices of the governor of Baghdad.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the bombings, saying recent political compromises by Iraqi leaders over a new election law stood "in sharp contrast to the senseless violence of the terrorists."
"The United States will continue to support the Iraqi people as they face down violent extremism and work to build a more peaceful and democratic nation," she said in a statement.
After the October attacks, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is staking his reputation on security ahead of a general election due early next year, promised tightened security and the capture of those responsible.
Monday, a smaller blast, which some officials said might have involved the accidental explosion of a hidden stockpile of munitions, killed seven children at a school in the Shi'ite slum of Sadr City.
The large-scale bomb attacks in Baghdad in August and October marked a change of tactics for the Sunni Islamist insurgency.
Rather than frequent, smaller-scale attacks against soft targets such as markets or mosques, groups like al Qaeda now appeared to be aiming for spectacular and less frequent strikes against heavily defended government targets.
Overall violence triggered by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion has fallen dramatically. In November, the Health Ministry reported the lowest monthly death toll of Iraqi civilians in 6-1/2 years.
(Writing by Mohammed Abbas; additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; editing by Michael Christie and Anthony Boadle)