A View Inside the Iraqi Parliament Building One day after a bomb ripped through the Iraqi Parliament, we learn what it was like to be inside the security-heavy building. A journalist and a Sunni leader offer their accounts of the tragedy.
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A View Inside the Iraqi Parliament Building

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A View Inside the Iraqi Parliament Building

A View Inside the Iraqi Parliament Building

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up on the program, missing White House e-mails in the news. We asked a computer expert if a deleted e-mail ever really truly is gone.

COHEN: But first...

(Soundbite of Green Zone)

COHEN: You're hearing a recording from inside the Green Zone yesterday in Baghdad, just seconds after a bomb went off at the Iraqi parliament building.

(Soundbite of Green Zone)

COHEN: Washington Post Baghdad bureau chief Sudarsan Raghavan was there. This is his tape. He was interviewing members of parliament just before the explosion. The blast perforated his eardrum, an injury which doctors say should heal in a month or two. Raghavan gave us this firsthand account. And a caution to listeners: some of his descriptions are disturbing.

Mr. SUDARSAN RAGHAVAN (Baghdad Bureau Chief, Washington Post): I had just finished my interview and then I basically saw a brilliant flash of orange light, and then heard a sort of giant popping, thudding sound. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor, covered with debris, dust. My glasses speckled with blood. My jeans were covered with pieces of flesh. The scene was pretty apocalyptic, to say the least.

COHEN: What was the first thing that ran through your mind when this happened?

Mr. RAGHAVAN: The first thing that ran through my mind was whether or not I was injured or not. I checked - I felt myself, just to check and see if there's any major blood or anything like that. Then I started to think about could there be another bomber? Because you know, what we've seen in Baghdad certainly over the past couple of years is when a bombing happens, there usually is another bomber - bombing nearby, in order to - that goes off within a couple of minutes. So I was very much concerned.

COHEN: After the bomb first went off, you left the building. And then you came back in. What did you find once you came back into the building?

Mr. RAGHAVAN: I walked up the stairs and back into the cafeteria. I went - I was looking for my notebook and my tape recorder. And I (unintelligible) see what was unfolding. I saw a leg cut from the calf all the way down, about three feet away from where I sat. Friends were searching for other friends. I mean it was just - and at the same time there was sort of a - in a way sort of an eerie silence because it seemed that everyone was moving sort of in this slow motion, sort of ghostly figures, you know, kind of trying to - you know, trying to get out or looking for people that they knew were inside the cafeteria.

COHEN: What is the mood like today in Baghdad?

Mr. RAGHAVAN: Today is a Friday, so - and the afternoon is basically - you have an entire curfew. But at the same time, the parliament did decide to meet. It was show of - basically, essentially show that they weren't going to be cowed by this bombing. But at the same time, the turnout was very minimal. But definitely the mood here is of shock. This was presumably the most safest place in Baghdad. It's the nerve center of the Iraqi government and its backer, the United States. Hardly anyone thought that a suicide bomber could basically walk in and blow himself up inside the parliament.

There's a lot of speculation that this was an inside job by a bodyguard of a politician or something. Because to enter the Green Zone today, you have to pass through armed U.S. soldiers, security contractors, metal detectors, body searches, bomb-sniffing dogs, identity checks, just to get in. And once you're in, you have to go through the whole process all over again.

So definitely people here are just in utter shock. They ask, you know, how can the government pacify Baghdad when such violence has unfolded within their own highly protected zone?

COHEN: Sudarsan Raghavan is the Washington Post Baghdad bureau chief. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

Mr. RAGHAVAN: My pleasure.

CHADWICK: And earlier we reached a Sunni member of Iraq's parliament. He is Saleh al-Mutlaq. He was not there during the bombing yesterday. But the parliamentarian who died in it, Mohammad Awad, was in the political bloc that Saleh al-Mutlaq led. And he was leaving for the funeral when we spoke.

Mr. SALEH AL-MUTLAQ (Iraqi Parliamentarian): He was very brave and very honest and decent in his life. He stood against the constitution as it was written. He stood against any way of dividing Iraq. But at the same time he was doing (unintelligible) through a dialogue, with all the all the other oppositions, even to his position.

CHADWICK: How do you feel about going back to work now at that building in the Green Zone after this clear demonstration that not even that place is safe anymore?

Mr. AL-MUTLAQ: Well, that does not mean very much for me because there is no safe place in Iraq, anywhere. Anywhere you go, your life is risky. And I do feel that although we were targeted as parliamentary members, but at the same time we represent people who have been targeted every day. We lost one of our groups. But every day there are families who lose two, three of their, you know, of their families. So the disaster is not only this situation, this case. The disaster is what's happening in general in Iraq. The situation is really catastrophic.

CHADWICK: From the outside, hearing what goes on in Iraq, I wonder if you don't get to the point where you have to say the country just cannot hold together. The future that some have predicted, of a divided Iraq - a Sunni part, a Shiite part, a Kurdish part - that's what you have to do, because Iraqis just cannot be together with each other.

Mr. AL-MUTLAQ: Well, then you are going to make a very serious mistake. Because if you divide it, then the war will be a real civil war over the natural resources and over the borders. At last there will be a civil war inside the Shiites themselves and inside the Sunnis themselves. Just imagine if you would divide the country in that way - the al-Qaida will control the Sunni parts, and the Kurdish (unintelligible) will control the Kurdish part. And the Shiite militias will control the south.

CHADWICK: Mr. Mutlaq, I'm sorry I don't know the procedures in a burial and a funeral for Muslims. Will you speak, do you speak at this event? And if you do, what will you say?

Mr. AL-MUTLAQ: Well, you have to sit there and then when people come in, they will have to read some of the Koran while they are sitting. And then you welcome them. And then when they leave, they will read also some of the, you know, parts of the Koran (unintelligible).

CHADWICK: Is there some of the part Koran that you will read that's related to what happened? Can you tell me what you will read and what it will say?

Mr. AL-MUTLAQ: Well, you just say that, you know, something that, you know, this guy was innocent and he died because, you know, he defended his country. And we hope that he will go to heaven after he leaves life.

CHADWICK: Saleh al-Mutlaq, a member of Iraq's parliament, remembering his friend and fellow parliamentarian, Mohammed Awad.

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