Thursday, April 12, 2007

Iraqi Parliament Hit By Suicide Bomber

Attack Deep Inside One Of The World's Most High Security Zones

Key bridge across the Tigris River reportedly destroyed by a truck bomb.

Some thin details are beginning to emerge about how a suicide bomber managed to penetrate more than eight layers of heavy security to blow himself up in a canteen frequented by MPs and media, inside the Iraqi Parliament. At least eight people are dead, including three politicans, with dozens wounded.

In what must be the biggest security breach in the four year history of 'The Green Zone', the bomber, reportedly a Sunni bodyguard for an MP, was helped in his attack by the failure of a key electronic security screeing system, at a pedestrian entrance to 'The Green Zone'. An entrance close to the Parliament itself, according to Associated Press reports:

The blast came hours after a suicide truck bomb exploded on a major bridge in Baghdad, collapsing the steel structure and sending cars tumbling into the Tigris River, police and witnesses said. At least 10 people were killed.

After the parliament blast, security guards sealed the building and no one - including politicians – was allowed to enter or leave.

Caldwell said witness accounts indicated a suicide attack.

The bombing came amid the two-month-old security crackdown in Baghdad, which has sought to restore stability in the capital so that the government of Iraq can take key political steps by June 30 or face a possible withdrawal of American support.

One of the dead politicians was Mohammed Awad, a member of the Sunni National Dialogue Front, said Saleh al-Mutlaq, the leader of the party, which holds 11 seats in Iraq’s legislature. A female Sunni lawmaker from the same list was wounded, he said.

Another legislator killed was Taha al-Liheibi, of the Sunni Accordance Front that holds 44 seats in parliament, according to Mohammed Abu Bakr, who heads the legislature’s media department.

Abu Bakr said he saw a suicide bomber’s body amid a ghastly scene at the restaurant.

“I saw two legs in the middle of the cafeteria and none of those killed or wounded lost their legs – which means they must be the legs of the suicide attacker,” he said.

Earlier in the day, security officials used dogs to check people entering the building in a rare precaution – apparently concerned that an attack might take place.

But a security scanner that checks pedestrians at the entrance to the Green Zone near the parliament building was not working on Thursday, Abu Bakr said. People were searched only by hand and had to pass through metal detectors, he said.

The brazen bombing was the clearest evidence yet that militants can penetrate even the most secure locations. Masses of US and Iraqi soldiers are on the streets in the ninth week of a security crackdown in the capital and security measures inside the Green Zone have been significantly hardened.

The US military reported April 1 that two suicide vests were found in the heavily fortified region that also houses the US Embassy and offices of the Iraqi government. A militant rocket attack last month killed two Americans, a soldier and a contractor.

A few days earlier, a rocket landed within 100 yards of a building where UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was holding a news conference. No one was hurt.

The UK Independent's Iraq correspondent, Patrick Cockburn,
wrote about the Parliament attack (some excerpts) :
Nowhere is safe. Insurgents struck in the heart of the Green Zone yesterday, one of the most heavily defended places in Baghdad. The symbolism - and the bloody message - was clear with this attack on the home to the US-imposed democracy.

The Green Zone bombing was not only an assault on democracy. It was intended to undermine President George Bush's troop "surge", which is denounced as a sham by so many Iraqis.

But even Iraqis hardened to violence were shocked by the bloody scene in parliament. "I saw a ball of fire and heard a huge, loud explosion," said one witness. "There were pieces of flesh floating in the air."

The success of a suicide bomber in penetrating one of the most tightly guarded buildings in the world could only have happened if he had help from other security men. The Iraqi parliament is well inside the heavily fortified Green Zone and is protected by eight layers of security, including at least three checks for explosives.

The suicide bombing is one of the most dramatic demonstrations of the extent to which the Sunni insurgents have infiltrated the government's own security apparatus. Other recent examples include the serious wounding of the deputy prime minister Salam al-Zubaie on 23 March by a bomber who got near him with the connivance of his own bodyguards.

The 275-member Iraqi parliament meets on the first floor of a cavernous building, originally built by Saddam Hussein to hold meetings of Islamic nations. Immediately outside the assembly hall is a restaurant. It was there, beside the cash register, that the bomber blew himself up.

The sensitivity of the US and the Iraqi government to the breach in security was apparent because all television cameras and video tapes showing the immediate aftermath of the blast were confiscated and handed to US authorities.

The only footage to be shown was by al-Hurra channel, shot seconds after the attack, it showed a dusty hallway with people screaming for help. One man is shown slumped in the dust.

The Green Zone itself is four miles square in the centre of Baghdad. It is heavily defended but some 5,000 Iraqis live inside it. It is defended by a mixture of soldiers, private security personel and bodyguards of uncertain loyalty.

Although President Bush has been seeking to blame Iran for supporting the insurgency in Iraq there is little evidence for that. The great majority of attacks on US forces are by Sunni guerrillas in Sunni districts. There have been battles with Shia militia but these have been intermittent. Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Mehdi Army, the largest Shia militia, has stood down his men and told them to avoid a confrontation with US forces.

Cockburn supplies more details on 'The Green Zone' :

The Green Zone is a forbidden city, a concrete fortress in the heart of Baghdad housing the Iraqi government, the US embassy, the British embassy and the Iraqi parliament. It is defended by concrete blast walls and well-fortified checkpoints.

Some four miles square, the zone began as the palace and office complex that was the centre of government for Saddam Hussein until his overthrow in April 2003. Over four years, it has become a hated symbol for people in Baghdad of the isolation of the Iraqi and American authorities from the terrors of real life in the city.

From a distance, the first signs of the Green Zone are the cranes rising above the enormous new US embassy. They are impossible to miss because they are the only new cranes in Baghdad.

A closer view of the Green Zone reveals that it is entirely surrounded by grey concrete blast walls to stop suicide bombers or other attackers. These walls run along the right-bank of the Tigris river and then run inland, blocking main roads and slicing through neighbourhoods.

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