Iraqi Parliament Attacked; al-Sarafiya Bridge Destroyed

April 14th, 2007 - by admin

Qassim Abdul-Zahra / Globe & Mail & Steven R. Hurst and Qassim Abdul-Zahra / Globe and Mail – 2007-04-14 23:33:27

Bombers Strike Baghdad High-security Area
Qassim Abdul-Zahra / Globe & Nauk

BAGHDAD (April 13, 2007) — A suspected suicide bomber blew himself up in the Iraqi parliament cafeteria in a stunning assault in the heart of the heavily fortified, US-protected Green Zone Thursday, killing at least eight people, the American military said.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told The Associated Press that eight people were killed in the attack. Iraqi officials said the bomber struck the cafeteria while several lawmakers were eating lunch.

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 withdrawal of American support.

One of the dead 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 member of the party was wounded, he said.

A security official at the parliament building said a second legislator, a Shiite, also was killed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Another member of the National Dialogue Front, Mohammed al-Dayni, suggested in an interview with Iraq’s Sharqiya television that the attack was carried by a suicide bomber. “I am standing now at the site of the explosion and looking at the severed legs of the person who carried out the operation. If this tells us anything, it tells us that security is lax,” Mr. al-Dayni said.

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

The brazen bombing was the clearest evidence yet that militants can penetrate even the most secure locations. Masses of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers are on the streets of Baghdad in the ninth week of a security crackdown in the capital and security measures inside the Green Zone have been significantly hardened in recent weeks. The U.S. military reported April 1 that two suicide vests were found in the heavily fortified region in central Baghdad that also houses the U.S. 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 metres of a building where UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was holding a news conference. No one was hurt.

Khalaf al-Ilyan, one of the three leaders of the Iraqi Accordance Front, which holds 44 seats in parliament, said the attack was “aimed at everyone – all parties – our parliament in general being a symbol and a representative of all segments of Iraqi society.” Mr. al-Ilyan, who is in Jordan recovering from knee surgery, said the blast also “underlines the failure of the government’s security plan.”

“The plan is 100 percent a failure. It’s a complete flop. The explosion means that instability and lack of security has reached the Green Zone, which the government boasts is heavily fortified,” he said.

US spokesman Lou Fintor said its officials were “investigating the nature and source of the explosion. No embassy employees or US citizens were affected.”

Hadi al-Amiri, head of the parliament’s security and defence committee, said the explosion shook the building just after legislators ended their main meeting, and broke into smaller committees. “A few brothers (fellow lawmakers) happened to be in the cafeteria at the time of the explosion,” Mr. al-Amiri told Al-Arabiya television. “But had they been able to place this bomb inside the meeting hall, it would have been a catastrophe.”

Mr. al-Amiri added that Iraqi forces are in charge of security in the building, and that explosives could have been smuggled in amid restaurant supplies.

A television camera and videotape belonging to a Western TV crew was confiscated by security guards moments after the attack.

The worst known attack inside the Green Zone occurred on Oct. 14, 2004, when insurgents detonated explosives at a market and a popular café, killing six people. That was the first bombing in the sprawling region.

In addition to killing 10 people, Thursday’s bombing of the al-Sarafiya bridge wounded 26, hospital officials said, and police were trying to rescue as many as 20 people whose cars plummeted off the span. Waves lapped against twisted girders, as patrol boats searched for survivors while U.S. helicopters flew overhead. Scuba divers donned flippers and waded in from the riverbanks.

Farhan al-Sudani, a 34-year-old Shia businessman who lives near the bridge, said the blast woke him at dawn. “A huge explosion shook our house and I thought it would demolish our house. Me and my wife jumped immediately from our bed, grabbed our three kids and took them outside,” he said.

The al-Sarafiya bridge connected two northern Baghdad neighbourhoods – Waziriyah, a mostly Sunni enclave, and Utafiyah, a Shiite area. Police blamed the attack on a suicide truck bomber, but AP Television News video showed the bridge broken in two places — perhaps the result of two blasts. Cement pilings that support the steel structure were left crumbling. At the base of one lay a charred vehicle engine, believed to be that of the truck bomb.

“We were astonished more when we saw the extent of damage,” said Ahmed Abdul-Karim, 45, who also lives near the bridge. “I was standing in my garden and I saw the smoke and flying debris.”

The al-Sarafiya bridge is believed to be at least 75 years old, built by the British in the early part of the 20th century. “It is one of Baghdad’s monuments. This is really damaging for Iraq. We are losing a lot of our history every day,” Mr. Abdul-Karim said.

The al-Sarafiya bridge has a duplicate in Fallujah that was built later and made infamous in March, 2004, when angry mobs hung the charred bodies of U.S. contractors from the bridge’s girders.

“This bridge is linked to Baghdad’s modern history – it is one of our famous monuments,” said Haider Ghazala, a 52-year-old Iraqi architect. “Attacking this bridge affects the morale of Iraqis and especially Baghdad residents who feel proud of this bridge. They (insurgents) want to demolish everything that connects the people with this land,” he said.

Before the al-Sarafiya bridge was destroyed, nine spans across the Tigris linked western and eastern Baghdad. The river now serves as a de facto dividing line between the mostly Shia east and the largely Sunni west of the city, a reality of more than a year of sectarian fighting that has forced Sunnis to flee neighbourhoods where they were a minority and likewise for Shiites.

Baghdad’s neighbourhoods had been mixed before the war, but hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced since then as militants from both Muslim sects have sought to drive their rivals out.

There have been unconfirmed reports for months that Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda in Iraq were planning a campaign to blow up the city’s bridges. U.S. military headquarters near the Baghdad airport and the Green Zone, site of the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi parliament and government, are both on the west side of the river.

Also Thursday, the U.S. military said its troops killed two suspected insurgents and captured 17 in raids across the country.

Suicide Bomber Penetrates Green Zone
Security officials finger bodyguard of Sunni legislator in deadly assault

Steven R. Hurst and Qassim Abdul-Zahra / Globe and Mail

BAGHDAD (April 13, 2007) — A suicide bomber slipped through the tightest security net in Baghdad and blew himself up in the midst of politicians having lunch in the parliamentary dining hall yesterday in the deadliest attack in the US-guarded Green Zone.

US officials said eight people, including members of parliament, were killed. A news video camera captured the moment of the blast, about 2:30 p.m., as lawmaker Jalaluddin al-Saghir was being interviewed by Alhurra, a US-government-funded Arab-language channel. Mr. al-Saghir escaped injury.

But a woman was shown kneeling over what appeared to be a wounded or dead man near a table and chairs. The camera then focused on a bloody, severed leg — apparently that of the suicide bomber. At least two MPs were among the dead.

The stunning breach of security in the Green Zone, home to the US embassy and the Iraqi government, laid a cloud of doubt about progress in the latest US-Iraqi bid to crack down on violence in the capital. The drive has put thousands of troops on the streets in a massive operation to round up militants and their weapons.

Five kilometres north and seven hours earlier, a massive bomb sent a major bridge linking east and west Baghdad plunging into the Tigris River. Several cars plummeted into the murky, brown water, and at least 10 people were known to have died. Many more were believed missing.

Security officials at Iraq’s parliament said they believed the bomber in the cafeteria attack was a bodyguard for a Sunni lawmaker who was not among the casualties. The bombing, which wounded both Sunnis and Shiites, showed that determined suicide assailants remain capable of striking at will.

Parliamentary security officials said two satchel bombs also were found in the parliament building near the dining hall. A US military bomb squad took the explosives away and detonated them without incident, the officials said.

Major-General William Caldwell said eight were dead in the blast, but hours after the bombing Iraqi officials were giving wildly varying accounts of how many people died and who they were.

US President George W. Bush strongly condemned the attack, saying: “My message to the Iraqi government is ‘We stand with you.’ ”

But congressional Democrats said the attack was evidence that substantial progress was not being made in the war.

“How the President and people around him can say things are going well is really hard to comprehend,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Earlier in the day, security officials brought dogs inside the building in a rare precaution — apparently concerned that an attack might take place.

A security scanner that checks pedestrians at the entrance to the Green Zone near the parliament building was not working yesterday. People were searched only by hand and had to pass through metal detectors.

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