Saturday, April 14, 2007

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s parliament met in an extraordinary session of “defiance” yesterday, the Muslim day of prayer, and declared it would not bow to terrorism.

A bouquet of red roses and a white lily were placed on the seat of Mohammed Awad, the lawmaker killed in the parliament dining hall suicide bombing. Al Qaeda took responsibility for the blast.

Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani opened the session by asking lawmakers to recite verses from the Koran in honor of Mr. Awad, whom he called a “hero.”

The U.S. military revised the dining hall death toll sharply downward, saying one civilian was killed. Late into Thursday the military had said eight persons had been killed and 23 wounded.

The unprecedented Friday session of parliament was called to send “a clear message to all the terrorists and all those who dare try to stop this [political] process, that we will sacrifice in order for it to continue,” said Mr. al-Mashhadani, a Sunni Muslim.

“We feel today that we are stronger than yesterday,” he said. “The parliament, government and the people are all the same — they are all in the same ship which, if it sinks, will make everyone sink.”

Lawmakers took the podium one after another to denounce the bombing. One legislator had his arm in a sling and a woman lawmaker wore a neck brace. But the turnout was low because of a ban on driving on Fridays.

“The more [the terrorists] act, the more solid we become. When they take from us one martyr, we will offer more martyrs,” Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi said. “The more they target our unity, the stronger our unity becomes.”

An al Qaeda-led amalgam of Sunni insurgents claimed that one of its “knights” carried out Thursday’s suicide bombing in Baghdad’s Green Zone and warned the “monkeys in parliament” to brace for more attacks.

While the attack was widely believed to have been an al Qaeda mission, investigators said yesterday they were focusing on security guards inside and outside the parliament building.

Hassan al-Sunnaid, a member of the parliament’s Security and Defense Committee, told state-run Iraqiya television that three cafeteria employees were being questioned by security agencies, although it was not clear what their involvement in the bombing might have been.

Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated Interior Ministry, which runs the police and national paramilitary force, took over security for parliament yesterday.

Thursday’s bombing in the heart of Baghdad’s most secure region, coupled with the stunning destruction of one of Baghdad’s Tigris River bridges, was a heavy blow to the Bush administration’s plan to put an additional 30,000 American forces in Iraq by summer.

“It is clear we still have a long way to go to provide stability and security to Iraq,” said Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the deputy U.S. commander in Iraq. “Frankly, [Thursday] was a bad day, a very bad day. But we’re going to come back from that.”

Regardless of the security breach, Gen. Odierno said, U.S. forces did not intend to assume responsibility for parliament’s security.

“It doesn’t help them for us to provide that security, they have to do that,” said Gen. Odierno, who declared his confidence in the Iraqi security forces.

Brig. Gen. Robert H. Holmes, deputy director of operations for U.S. Central Command, told the Associated Press in London that it was unfair to say the parliament bombing meant the failure of the U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown in Baghdad, now in its ninth week.

“That would not be a fair indictment. This incident is still under investigation. The Iraqi police or the Iraqis had responsibility for security of that target, albeit that there were lines of security around it. Ultimately it will come down to their investigation to see what happened there,” Gen. Holmes said.

The U.S. military announced yesterday that three American soldiers and two Iraqi translators were killed in two attacks south of Baghdad. Eight soldiers were wounded.

Meanwhile, South Korea, one of the closest U.S. allies in Iraq, is preparing a plan to pull its 1,300 troops out of the country, a Defense Ministry official in Seoul said yesterday.

The South Korean presence in Iraq began in 2003 with a 600-strong contingent. The country sent 3,000 more troops the following year at Washington’s request, making it the United States’ biggest coalition partner after Britain.

“We’re drawing up a mission termination plan and will submit it to the National Assembly in June,” the official said on the condition of anonymity, citing policy. The official declined to give details.

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