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Suicide Bomber Strikes Parliament in Green Zone

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Suicide Bomber Strikes Parliament in Green Zone


Suicide Bomber Strikes Parliament in Green Zone

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

There were two disastrous bomb attacks in Baghdad today. At lunchtime, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a cafeteria inside the Iraqi parliament building. At least eight people were killed, including at least three members of parliament. Twenty-two other MPs were listed among the wounded. Earlier, an enormous truck bomb exploded on a bridge in northern Baghdad, causing the roadway to collapse into the Tigris River. That explosion left at least 10 people dead.

As NPR's Mike Shuster reports from Baghdad, the two bombings show that despite the security crackdown in the capital, insurgents are still able to mount deadly attacks almost anywhere.

MIKE SHUSTER: The bombing at the parliament was the most serious attack yet inside the highly-fortified Green Zone. Late this evening, the spokesman for the U.S. command in Iraq, Major General William Caldwell, said eight people died in the explosion and 23 more were injured.

The explosion resulted from a suicide bomber detonating an explosive vest. Security forces immediately sealed off the Green Zone, and no one was permitted in or out. American Apache attack helicopters patrolled the skies above the area.

One witness to the attack reached by cell phone was Salim Abdullah, a member of parliament who was in the cafeteria when the bomb went off.

SALIM ABDULLAH: (Through Translator) I'm not sure what happened. It was a shock, and I don't know how it happened. Even those of us who were so close to the explosion weren't able to identify where the bomb came from. One of the rumors I heard is that it was a suicide belt.

SHUSTER: How someone with an explosive vest managed to get into the Green Zone, let alone into the parliament, remains a mystery. Most people who enter the Green Zone must pass through at least eight checkpoints, where their identity badges are scrutinized, they are frisked several times. They go through at least one metal and explosives detector, and any bags they carry into the zone are exposed to bomb-sniffing dogs.

There are widespread suspicions that these procedures may not be observed in all cases by members of parliament and their aides.

Again, Salim Abdullah.

ABDULLAH: (Through Translator) This is a big security breach, especially today, because there were extra checkpoints and dogs searching even the speaker of the parliament. The circumstances are very strange.

SHUSTER: This was certainly not the first attack on the Green Zone, but it was the most deadly. The zone has been hit by rockets and mortar fire. In 2004, insurgents detonated explosives inside the Green Zone at a market and cafe, killing six.

Earlier this month, two explosive vests were discovered there. A spokesman for the U.S. embassy, which is located in the protected area, said none of the casualties in today's bombing was American. The parliament attack was the second serious breach of security in the capital today.

Just before the morning rush hour, a huge truck bomb destroyed a key bridge over the Tigris River. Witnesses said they saw a truck parked suspiciously on the Sarafiya Bridge, a steel structure across the Tigris River in north Baghdad.

The explosion, also detonated by a suicide bomber, it is believed, buckled one of the bridge's steel spans and parts of the roadway fell into the river. There was traffic on the bridge at the time, and as many as five automobiles also plunged into the water.

Police in patrol boats and divers in scuba gear mounted a rescue operation. Fifty-year-old Abu Ali(ph) lives in the shadow of the bridge. He rushed outside this morning just after the explosion blew out the windows of his house.

ABU ALI: (Through Translator) The moment it happened, I saw the smoke. I couldn't take it. I was sad so I went away. But I heard someone screaming in the water. I jumped and saw him wounded in the head. He was about to drown, so I dove in and rescued him.

SHUSTER: It is not known whether the two attacks today were coordinated, but symbolically, they represented a dramatic challenge to the recent U.S.-led effort to bring security to Baghdad. The new security crackdown began two months ago.

U.S. commanders say the number of civilians killed in Baghdad has declined in the past month. But when insurgents can destroy key infrastructure and penetrate the most protected zone in Iraq, it's doubtful many residents of the capital will feel any safer.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Baghdad.

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