That the "security crackdown" in Baghdad does not seem to working is an understatement. -- On Thursday AP reported that "A suicide bomber slipped through the tightest security net in Baghdad and blew himself up in the midst of lawmakers having lunch in the parliament dining hall Thursday. U.S. officials said eight people, including parliament members, were killed in the deadliest-ever attack in the American-guarded Green Zone." -- But it is still not clear how many died, since "hours after the bombing Iraqi officials were giving wildly varying accounts of how many people died and who they were. The government never gave a final death toll Thursday," Steven R. Hurst and Qassim Abdul-Zahra reported, noting that "The explosion took place just a few steps away from the room where the U.S.-appointed occupation governor, L. Paul Bremer, announced 'We got him!' after the capture of Saddam in a spider hole in December 2003." -- In a separate piece, Hurst, the AP bureau chief in Baghdad, called the parliament bombing and the bombing that destroyed the Sarafiya Bridge a few hours earlier "a public relations blow to the Bush administration's bid to expand U.S. troop strength and keep the force in Iraq." -- If U.S. forces and the Iraqi government cannot provide security in the Green Zone, then it would appear that nowhere is secure in Iraq. -- Hurst added: "[T]he parliament attack overshadowed the incredible bombing of one of Baghdad's nine Tigris River spans, an incident that would have been difficult to imagine even on a particularly violent day in Baghdad. -- The two attacks draw stark attention to the country's deepening Sunni-Shiite divide, and the difficulty of spanning them. The bridge fell physically, but was also a symbol of how Baghdad's once vibrant and mixed neighborhoods now slowly are becoming almost solely Sunni or Shiite, with the Tigris as boundary." -- Reuters pointed out that the bomber had been able to "slip through multiple armed checkpoints" in order to carry out his mission. -- AFP reported that "Access to the Green Zone, home to the Iraqi government, the U.S. mission, and other foreign embassies is restricted to visitors carrying picture IDs who are required to pass through at least six checkpoints and several metal detectors." -- Juan Cole observed that despite the importance of the news, "I hardly saw anything about this on American cable television news Thursday morning." ...
BOMBING AT IRAQI PARLIAMENT KILLS 8
By Steven R. Hurst and Qassim Abdul-Zahra
April 13, 2007
BAGHDAD -- A suicide bomber slipped through the tightest security net in Baghdad and blew himself up in the midst of lawmakers having lunch in the parliament dining hall Thursday. U.S. officials said eight people, including parliament members, were killed in the deadliest-ever attack in the American-guarded Green Zone.
The stunning breach of security, on the same day that a massive bombing destroyed one of Baghdad's main bridges, laid a cloud of heavy doubt about progress in the latest U.S.-Iraqi bid to clamp off 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.
A news video camera captured the moment of the blast, about 2:30 p.m. -- a flash and an orange ball of fire causing Jalaluddin al-Saghir, a startled parliament member who was being interviewed, to duck. Smoke and dust billowed through the area, and confused and frightened lawmakers and others could be heard screaming for help and to find colleagues.
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.
Three miles north and seven hours earlier, a bombing 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.
Police blamed a suicide truck bomber for the attack on the al-Sarafiya bridge, which the British built in the 1950s. AP Television News video, however, showed the bridge broken in two places -- perhaps the result of two blasts.
Security officials at Iraq's parliament said they believed the bomber in the cafeteria attack was a bodyguard of 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.
U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said the attack bore the trademarks of al-Qaida in Iraq. The terrorist group is fighting not only to oust U.S. forces from Iraq but also against fellow Sunnis in the west of the country who have begun to leave the insurgency and side with U.S. and Iraqi soldiers.
"We don't know at this point who it was. We do know in the past that suicide vests have been used predominantly by al-Qaida," the U.S. military spokesman said.
One of the lawmakers killed in the attack, Mohammed Awad, was a member of the moderate Sunni National Dialogue Front, according to party leader Saleh al-Mutlaq. A female Sunni lawmaker from the same list was wounded, he said.
A second Sunni lawmaker known to have been killed was Taha al-Liheibi, a key go-between in government efforts to negotiate with Sunni insurgents about putting down their arms and joining the political process.
It would be the second time in less than a month that a bodyguard wearing a suicide vest attacked a Sunni official. On March 23 a member of Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie's security detail exploded his suicide vest and seriously wounded al-Zubaie, the highest-ranking Sunni in the Iraqi government.
Security officials told the Associated Press then that the bodyguard was a distant relative who had been arrested as an insurgent, freed at al-Zubaie's request, then hired as a bodyguard. At the time, the assassination attempt was at least the third major security breach involving a top politician in four months.
The parliament security officials, who spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information, said two satchel bombs also were found in the parliament building near the dining hall. A U.S. military bomb squad took the explosives away and detonated them without incident, the officials said.
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. The government never gave a final death toll Thursday.
President Bush strongly condemned the attack, saying: "My message to the Iraqi government is 'We stand with you.'"
"It reminds us, though, that there is an enemy willing to bomb innocent people in a symbol of democracy," he said.
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.
"This is the progress we've been hearing about?" asked Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. "And tell me, how are more American troops going to stop a single fanatic with explosives strapped to his chest?"
Congress has passed bills that would force the Bush administration to set a timetable for withdrawing American troops. Bush has said he would veto any such measure and that American forces need more time to curb the raging violence.
Hours after the bombing, Iraqi officials including Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh met with the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and decided to put the Interior Ministry in charge of security at parliament, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said. The building was previously guarded by a private security company, he said.
Petraeus issued a statement saying the U.S. military extended condolences to those "martyred" in the bombing. It was "an attack on democracy by individuals who oppose the concept of government that is representative of and responsible to the people," he said.
The video of the bombing was shot by Alhurra, a U.S. government-funded Arab-language channel.
Mohammed Abu Bakr, who heads the legislature's media department, said he saw the bomber's body amid the ghastly scene.
"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.
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 in the ninth week of the security crackdown in the capital; security measures have been significantly hardened inside the Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi government.
Earlier in the day, security officials brought dogs inside 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 Thursday, Abu Bakr said. People were searched only by hand and had to pass through metal detectors, he said.
The previously worst known attack in the Green Zone occurred Oct. 14, 2004, when insurgents detonated explosives at a market and café, killing six people. That was the first bombing in the sprawling area.
More recently, the U.S. military reported April 1 that two suicide vests were found in the Green Zone. A 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 U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was holding a news conference; no one was hurt.
The parliament building was built during Saddam Hussein's reign as a convention center. After the war, it served as a press center and provided offices for a variety of U.S. and international agencies. The explosion took place just a few steps away from the room where the U.S.-appointed occupation governor, L. Paul Bremer, announced "We got him!" after the capture of Saddam in a spider hole in December 2003.
Besides killing 10 people, Thursday's bombing of the al-Sarafiya bridge wounded 26, hospital officials said. But the death toll was feared to be much higher: Police tried but apparently failed to rescue as many as 20 people whose cars plummeted off one of Baghdad's nine Tigris River spans.
Waves lapped against twisted girders as patrol boats searched for survivors and U.S. helicopters flew overhead. Scuba divers donned flippers and waded in from the riverbanks.
Farhan al-Sudani, a 34-year-old Shiite 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. My wife and I jumped immediately from our bed, grabbed our three kids and took them outside," he said.
--Associated Press Writers Bassem Mroue and Lauren Frayer contributed to this report.
BOMBINGS RAISE QUESTIONS ABOUT 'SURGE
By Steven R. Hurst
April 12, 2007
BAGHDAD -- U.S. and Iraqi officials have voiced cautious optimism that the 2-month-old security operation in Iraq might be working. A suicide bombing at parliament and another that sent a Baghdad bridge crashing into the Tigris River delivered a powerful message that the American-led crackdown may be too late.
The attack inside Iraq's parliament, which uses a Saddam-era convention center in the U.S.-guarded Green Zone, occurred despite considerably hardened security in the compound since the beginning of the latest security drive against Baghdad's violence.
Thursday's bombings were emblematic of the struggle U.S. and Iraqi troops are fighting not only in Baghdad but in many areas throughout the country. Sunni insurgents and Shiite militiamen who've held power for months or years are fighting for their turf ferociously, resorting to classic guerrilla hit-and-run tactics.
Compounding the problems facing the U.S. and Iraqi security operation is al-Qaida in Iraq, the most violent organization in the larger Sunni insurgency and the most difficult to defend against because it has an apparently full stable of suicide bombers. Such attacks, like the ones Thursday, can be virtually impossible to stop.
The symbolism of the parliament bombing in the Green Zone, especially because it is seen as a safe haven in an otherwise chaotic and extraordinarily dangerous city, was a public relations blow to the Bush administration's bid to expand U.S. troop strength and keep the force in Iraq.
President Bush and U.S. commanders in Iraq all say the American effort to restore calm to the capital and surrounding regions needs at least until the end of summer. But Thursday's attacks and other evidence suggest the job could take considerably longer.
The parliament attack compounds other problems bedeviling Iraq.
The Bush administration has demanded that Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki meet a series of difficult legislative benchmarks to get the country on track. But none of them, especially passage of a law to share oil income throughout the country among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, is anywhere near going onto the books.
An attack like the one in parliament likely will throw the recalcitrant legislative body into further turmoil and make quick action on any disputed measure unlikely.
The current security drive, orchestrated by the White House in conjunction with al-Maliki, will see an additional 30,000 American forces in the country by the end of May. The stated purpose is to calm the capital sufficiently so that the politicians can deal with the extraordinarily difficult tasks before them.
But the parliament bombing is certain to only harden positions. That could make compromise -- already difficult -- nearly impossible.
And beyond that, the parliament attack overshadowed the incredible bombing of one of Baghdad's nine Tigris River spans, an incident that would have been difficult to imagine even on a particularly violent day in Baghdad.
The two attacks draw stark attention to the country's deepening Sunni-Shiite divide, and the difficulty of spanning them. The bridge fell physically, but was also a symbol of how Baghdad's once vibrant and mixed neighborhoods now slowly are becoming almost solely Sunni or Shiite, with the Tigris as boundary.
--Hurst is AP Iraq bureau chief and has reported on the war since 2003.
SUICIDE BOMBER KILLS 8 AT IRAQ PARLIAMENT
By Dean Yates and Ross Colvin
April 12, 2007
BAGHDAD -- A suicide bomber killed eight people in the Iraqi parliament on Thursday, brazenly penetrating to the heart of Baghdad's Green Zone to launch the deadliest strike yet in the heavily fortified compound.
Defying a two-month-old U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown, the bomber slipped through multiple armed checkpoints to reach the heart of the zone, a 10 sq. km (4 sq. miles) area housing parliament, government offices and many embassies.
U.S. military spokesman Major-General William Caldwell said initial reports showed eight had been killed and 20 wounded in the blast which tore through a cafe where lawmakers were having lunch. State television said three of the dead were lawmakers.
Caldwell said the blast bore the hallmarks of Sunni Islamist al Qaeda, resurgent in recent weeks despite the crackdown by tens of thousands of Iraqi and U.S. troops.
Footage of the blast broadcast on Iraq's al-Hurra television station showed a Shi'ite MP being interviewed when suddenly a loud blast sent him ducking for cover. Clouds of dust and debris swirled through the building as people shouted and tried to make their way out down stairwells.
U.S. President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is on a trip to the Far East, condemned the attack on the parliament, housed in a former conference center.
"It reminds us though that there is an enemy willing to bomb innocent people in a symbol of democracy," Bush said.
A truck bomb also killed at least seven people on Sarafiya bridge in northern Baghdad, a main artery linking east and west Baghdad, destroying most of the steel structure and sending several cars plunging into the River Tigris below.
How explosives were smuggled into the Green Zone is likely to be the focus of an investigation. They would have had to pass through an outer checkpoint manned by U.S. and Iraqi troops and multiple inner checkpoints guarded by security contractors and foreign troops that are part of the U.S.-led coalition.
Iraqi military spokesman Brigadier General Qassim Moussawi, said it appeared to have been a well-planned operation that had taken advantage of "a deficiency in one of the security points." A review of procedures would need to be carried out, he said.
WHO HAD ACCESS?
Entry to the conference centre is restricted to accredited parliamentary staff, deputies, security guards, and journalists. Only MPs, police and kitchen staff can access the cafeteria.
Two Shi'ite lawmakers said the metal detector used at the VIP entrance was working, but a Sunni legislator said when he arrived there was a power cut and bags were being manually searched. A Reuters cameraman said the scanner at a second entrance used by staff and journalists was operating.
"We are trying to backtrack all the systems to see how somebody was able to get a suicide vest in . . . we are looking at who had access there," Caldwell told Reuters by telephone.
The U.S. military said this month that two explosives vests were found in the zone. A suspected third vest was known to have been missing and a hunt was launched to find it.
An Iraqi official said another suspected bomb had been found nearby and detonated.
The SITE Institute, a private U.S. organization that tracks militant activity, questioned media reports that al Qaeda had claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the claim had been posted on a Web site not used by the group.
A Reuters cameraman said the blast took place at the cashier's register in the cafe, near parliament's assembly hall.
"I saw a ball of fire and heard a huge, loud explosion. There were pieces of flesh floating in the air," said the cameraman, who was lightly wounded in the arm.
Militants have rarely carried out attacks inside the zone, although it has come under increasing rocket and mortar attack.
A rocket landed close to a building where Maliki and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon were speaking last month.
In the worst previous bomb attack in the zone, two al Qaeda bombers killed five people, including three Americans, in 2004.
(Additional reporting by Aseel Kami, Ahmed Rasheed, Yara Bayoumy, Mussab Al-Khairalla, Mariam Karouny and Aws al-Rubaie)
SUICIDE BOMBER KILLS EIGHT IN IRAQ PARLIAMENT
April 12, 2007
BAGHDAD -- A suicide bomber blew himself up at the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad's Green Zone on Thursday, killing eight people including at least two MPs in a staggering breach of security at Iraq's most heavily guarded site.
An Iraqi security official said two lawmakers and a parliamentary official died and 20 people were wounded, around half of them MPs, when a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt walked in to parliament's canteen carrying a briefcase.
U.S. military commander Major General William Caldwell later put the overall death toll at eight with another 23 wounded, but without giving a breakdown of the casualties.
The bombing, which left pools of blood and body parts littered across the cafeteria, defied a massive U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown launched in the world's most dangerous capital two months ago, and was swiftly condemned in Washington.
The attack -- the deadliest inside the heavily fortified Green Zone -- caused lunchtime chaos, shattering glass and filling the room with heavy smoke as people shrieked for help in dramatic scenes filmed by Arabic television.
Powerful Shiite parliamentarian Jalaluddin al-Saghir was seen ducking under the force of the blast before two people picked up someone flung to the floor, the U.S.-funded Al-Hurra television footage showed.
"The flesh of the suicide bomber was scattered across the cafeteria. There was blood everywhere on the floor," an Iraqi security official told AFP from the scene of the attack on condition of anonymity.
A parliamentary employee who was wounded said he heard "Allahu Akhbar (God is Great) and saw the bomber before hearing the shattering explosion.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is visiting South Korea, condemned the "criminal and cowardly act" as the parliament speaker announced a special session for Friday -- the day of rest in Muslim Iraq -- to condemn "terrorism."
U.S. President George W. Bush, whose approval ratings have slumped because of the Iraq war, assured Maliki's embattled coalition government: "We stand with you" following the latest attack targeting senior Iraqi officials.
"I strongly condemn the action. It reminds us, though, that there is an enemy willing to bomb innocent people and a symbol of democracy," he said.
U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver suggested in an interview with CNN that Al-Qaeda may have been behind the attack.
"Al-Qaeda is one of the organizations that would want to do that," he said. Asked if he thought the most probable claim of responsibility would come from Al-Qaeda, he replied: "We will wait and see what the investigation identifies."
One dead MP was named by security as Mohammed Awad, a member of the National Dialogue Front, a Sunni Arab party with 11 seats in the 275-member parliament.
The second MP confirmed killed was identified as belonging to the Kurdistan Islamic Union, a fringe Kurdish grouping with an original line-up of five MPs, one of whom was shot dead last year.
At least five Sunni lawmakers and two from the United Iraqi Alliance, the main Shiite grouping that leads the government, were among the wounded, and Maliki ordered a swift investigation into who was responsible.
"There is a strong indication that the suicide bomber was a bodyguard of one of the lawmakers," a senior security official said on condition of anonymity.
Iraqi police were also said to be questioning the cafeteria manager, who was new to the job after being hired last month, and kitchen staff.
Access to the Green Zone, home to the Iraqi government, the U.S. mission, and other foreign embassies is restricted to visitors carrying picture IDs who are required to pass through at least six checkpoints and several metal detectors.
Insurgents and militias have, however, managed to fire rockets and mortar shells into the compound from outside its walls. Last month security forces found two explosive vests lying inside the zone.
Also last month, two American contractors were killed in rocket attacks, while U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon had a close shave when a mortar shell hit behind the heavily secured building where he was giving a news conference with Maliki.
"Such violence, whatever the motives may be, cannot be justified, can never be justified," said Ban, condemning the parliament building blast.
The attack came just hours after a suicide bomber blew up a truck on a major bridge across the Tigris River in Baghdad, killing 10 people and sending several cars plunging from the wrecked structure into the waters below.
Another 26 people were wounded in the attack on Al-Sarafiyah Bridge, one of the oldest in the Iraqi capital, which collapsed under the force of the blast.
Six people were also killed when their bus was hit by a roadside bomb near the northern oil hub of Kirkuk.
The United States, meanwhile, urged Turkey to refrain from launching cross-border raids against Kurdish guerrilla bases in neighbouring northern Iraq, although it agreed the rebels "need to be dealt with."
BREAKING NEWS: IRAQI PARLIAMENT CAFETERIA BOMBED
By Juan Cole
April 12, 2007
A suicide bomber wearing a bomb vest managed to get into a cafeteria in the parliament building in the fortress-like Green Zone in downtown Baghdad and to detonate his payload. He killed 8 persons and wounded 20, among them two members of parliament. They included an MP from the secular Sunni National Dialogue Front (11 seats) and another from the Kurdistan Alliance.
John McCain's silliness about how safe it is to walk around Baghdad should be decisively put to rest by this incident. Security is clearly getting worse in Iraq, not better. Although the Green Zone has frequently taken mortar fire, bombings have been extremely rare (one previous successful one?). It could only have happened if persons who look to the Americans as though they are loyal allies were actually smuggling in components and working for the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement.
Kyra Phillips is saying that a lot of security checking coming into the Green Zone has been turned over to the Iraqis or over to private security firms. "Someone is obviously not doing their job," she observed.
The oddest thing is that I hardly saw anything about this on American cable television news Thursday morning. (At noon, of course, CNN allows one hour of a feed from the adult news, CNN International, and it did a good job.) They had some small-town murder mystery again, or stories about white shock jocks being shocking and racist (as if the owners of the cable television news weren't the ones purveying white shock jocks with racist views to the world). It is tragic that corporate media get away with using public resources to divert the attention of the people from what is important and to baby sit them with pablum.