- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2007

12:31 p.m.

BAGHDAD — A suspected suicide bomber blew himself up in the Iraqi parliament cafeteria in a stunning assault in the heart of the heavily fortified, U.S.-protected Green Zone today, killing at least eight persons, including lawmakers, the American military said.

Iraqi officials said the bomber struck the cafeteria while several lawmakers were eating lunch.

The blast in the parliament building 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 persons were killed.

After the blast, security guards sealed the building, and no one — including lawmakers — was allowed to enter or leave.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said no Americans were hurt in the blast.

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.

U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, who said at least eight persons were killed in the parliament bombing, said witness accounts indicated a suicide attack.

“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 Qaeda,” he said in an Associated Press broadcast interview.

At the White House, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe condemned the attack by “terrorists and extremists.”

“We’ve known there’s a security problem in Baghdad, which is why the president has structured a new strategy and why Gen. [David H.] Petraeus and his commanders are carrying it out,” added Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “But this is still early in the process, and I don’t think anybody expected there would not be counterefforts by terrorists to undermine the security progress we’re trying to make.”

One of the dead lawmakers was Mohammed Awad, a member of the Sunni National Dialogue Front, said party leader Saleh al-Mutlaq. A female Sunni lawmaker from the same faction was wounded, he said.

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

Mr. Abu Bakr said he saw a suicide 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.

Several other lawmakers also said they saw the limbs, believed to be those of the bomber.

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

However, a security scanner that checks pedestrians at the entrance to the Green Zone near the parliament building was not working today, Mr. 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 U.S. 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 hardened significantly.

The U.S. military reported April 1 that two suicide vests had been found in the Green Zone, also home to the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi government. 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 press conference. No one was hurt.

In addition to killing 10 persons, today’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 and U.S. helicopters flew overhead. Scuba divers donned flippers and waded in from the riverbanks.

The al-Sarafiya bridge connected two northern Baghdad neighborhoods — Waziriyah, a mostly Sunni enclave, and Utafiyah, a Shi’ite area.

The bridge, built by the British in the early part of the 20th century, is believed to be at least 75 years old.

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