- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 24, 2007

BAGHDAD — Striking at the Iraqi government’s highest-ranking Sunni Arab, a suicide bomber blew himself up among worshippers near the deputy prime minister’s home yesterday, seriously wounding the leader and killing at least nine persons in a security breakdown that shook the image of a calmer Baghdad.

Salam al-Zubaie underwent surgery to remove shrapnel from his abdomen at a U.S.-run hospital. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, head of the Shi’ite Muslim-dominated government, said his deputy was in serious but stable condition and wouldn’t need treatment abroad “for now.”

The bombing, coming just a day after a Katyusha rocket slammed into the ground 50 yards from visiting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, starkly emphasized the continuing chaos in Iraq even after the introduction of thousands more American soldiers and six weeks of an extensive security crackdown in the capital.

A man wearing an explosives vest blew himself up as Mr. al-Zubaie, one of two deputy prime ministers, and other worshippers were leaving a mosque near the heavily fortified Green Zone, police and a Sunni politician said. It occurred after a statement purportedly by an al Qaeda umbrella group singled out the deputy prime minister as a stooge “to the crusader occupiers.”

Police said a car parked nearby exploded at about the same time.

Ziad al-Ani, a top official from the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, said Mr. al-Zubaie was in “serious condition” at the hospital’s intensive care unit. He said shrapnel had penetrated his chest.

Mr. al-Ani said the bomber blew himself up inside the mosque during the traditional weekly prayer service. Debris and pools of blood covered the floor and light fixtures dangled from the ceiling. The walls were pockmarked from shrapnel.

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said Mr. al-Zubaie was in a hospital run by the U.S. in the Green Zone but would not comment on his condition.

Nine persons were killed in the attack, including an adviser to the deputy prime minister, and 14 were wounded, including five of Mr. al-Zubaie’s bodyguards. The adviser, Mufeed Abdul-Zahra, was wounded and died later at the hospital.

Harith al-Obeidi, a lawmaker with the Sunni Accordance Front, the largest parliamentary bloc to which Mr. al-Zubaie also belongs, said the deputy prime minister’s brother, cousin and the imam of the mosque were among those killed. He said the prayer room was in a tightly secured area and cars would be searched but not people.

State-run Iraqiya television, citing a “special source” reported that the attacker was one of Mr. al-Zubaie’s bodyguards but that could not be confirmed.

The mosque where the attack occurred was adjacent to the Sunni leader’s compound in a residential area behind the Foreign Ministry near the Green Zone, which houses the U.S. and British embassies and the Iraqi government headquarters.

Baghdad authorities have imposed a weekly four-hour vehicle ban from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays to protect the prayer services from suicide car bombers.

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