Baghdad: Suicide bombers and gunmen wearing military uniforms killed 15 people and took hostages on Sunday in a daring raid on the Iraq Central Bank in Baghdad, triggering an ongoing siege with security forces.
The violence began at around 2:50 pm (1150 GMT) when a suicide attacker wearing an army captain`s uniform detonated his payload near the building, causing multiple casualties, a high-ranking defence ministry official said.
The attackers took control of the building as a total of eight explosions sounded throughout the area in less than an hour amid exchanges of gunfire and as army helicopters circled overhead.
The gunmen were continuing to occupy the building and the attackers had posted snipers on the roof of the bank in an attempt to deter police and soldiers from wrestling back control, according to the defence official.
Most of those killed were bank workers, with a further 43 people wounded, and many other employees are being held captive inside, said an interior ministry official who gave the toll.
Major General Qassim Atta a spokesman for the security forces in Baghdad, said soldiers and police were "besieging" the attackers whom he described as "a terrorist group."
He said it was unclear if they had intended to rob the bank, target its employees and take hostages, or destroy the building.
Government figures showed that 337 people were killed in violence across Iraq in May, the fourth time this year that the overall death toll has been higher when compared with the same month of 2009.
The audacious attack came one day before the reopening of the conflict-torn nation`s parliament, the country`s second democratic grouping since the US-led invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The opening session of the Council of Representatives marks one of the few tangible forward steps taken by the war-battered country`s politicians since a general election on March 7 resulted in deadlock between rival parties.
Diplomats and politicians, however, warned ahead of Monday`s opening that a new government continues to appear some way off, and that it may be several months before the fine detail on the country`s new leaders takes shape.
US forces are steadily being pulled out of Iraq and a new administration in Baghdad is seen as key to a smooth withdrawal of all American troops -- 88,000 remain in country -- by the end of 2011.
Former premier Iyad Allawi`s Iraqiya bloc won most seats, 91, in the election, followed closely by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki`s State of Law Alliance, which won 89, but both have failed to build a coalition government.
In a sign that the political tempo may be speeding up, Allawi and Maliki held a long-awaited meeting on Saturday, which was described as "friendly and positive," according to a brief statement released by the Prime Minister.
In other violence on Sunday two policemen were shot dead by insurgents in the restive city of Mosul, 350 kilometres (217 miles) north of Baghdad, said a security official.