Baghdad Green Zone Suicide Attack

Baghdad is still reeling after a shocking and symbolic bombing yesterday rocked the heavily fortified Green Zone, striking at the very heart of Iraq’s young democracy and raising fresh doubts that the latest US-Iraqi security crackdown will bring peace to the troubled capital.

At around 2.30 pm, a suicide bomber wearing an explosives vest and carrying a briefcase walked through several security checkpoints in the Green Zone, made his way to the cafeteria where Iraqi Members of Parliament were just finishing lunch and blew himself up. The attack claimed the lives of eight people, including three Iraqi lawmakers (2 Sunnis and 1 Kurd), and wounded dozens of others.

This came hours after a suicide truck bombing destroyed Baghdad’s al-Sarafiya bridge and hurled several cars into the Tigris River, killing 11 people and wounding 39 others, most of whom were pulled from the water by police rescuers.

The Green Zone bombing was captured on video when it dramatically cut short a television interview with Iraqi lawmaker Jalaluddin al-Saghir. The footage shows Mr al-Saghir ducking at the deafening crack of the explosion behind him. A moment later, an orange fireball erupts with a flash and scorched debris begins flying across the room and falling from the ceiling. The camera pans across the dust-filled, smoked-out cafeteria as terrified people rush to each other’s aid and form groups to ferry out the wounded. One women kneels over a motionless man who has collapsed next to an abandoned table. A severed leg lay on the floor nearby.

Barzan Mohammed, an assistant to the deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Arif Tayfour, gave another chilling account of the chaos. “I was just leaving my office for lunch and there was this very big bang. I ran along the corridor to the restaurant but all I could see were huge clouds of dust,” he told The Guardian. “It was choking and there was the smell of burning meat. The windows were blown out, there were tables and chairs everywhere and the sound of groaning. Then I saw that many people had been hit, and that blood was everywhere.”

The parliament building is protected by several checkpoints beginning at the outer edges of the Green Zone, which houses US military troops, foreign embassies and the Iraqi parliament and government buildings. Entry is strictly limited to people with security clearance and their guests. Even Iraqi MPs are electronically scanned and patted down to prevent weapons being smuggled in, and dogs are deployed to sniff out explosives.

Concerns have thus been raised that the spectacular security breach – unprecedented since the US-led invasion four years ago – was a meticulously executed ‘inside job’. Two weeks ago, the US military stepped up security when two suicide bomb belts were found near internal checkpoints. Yesterday, three cafeteria workers and a number of lawmakers’ bodyguards were questioned by police, but no arrests have been confirmed.

The Green Zone has long been considered impenetrable to such attacks (despite the occasional mortar landing in the fortress), but US officials have now conceded that there is no such thing as a ‘safe place’ in Baghdad. “The international zone is not safe, it is just safer than the rest of the city,” said Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver.

Lieutenant Colonel Garver also told CNN that the military had identified al Qaeda in Iraq as its prime suspect. “Al Qaeda is one of the organisations that would want to … separate the population from the government, that would want the government to fail, that wants the security plan to fail in Baghdad,” he said. “Obviously the people who did this did not have the best interests of the Iraqi people in mind. These are people who are killing innocent civilians in order to try and make a point, in order to try and discredit the government.”

Major General William Caldwell, the chief US military spokesman, shared these suspicions. He said, “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.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was in South Korea at the time of the explosion, condemned the attack and ordered a criminal investigation. Parliamentary speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani announced that parliament would hold a special session on Friday, the Muslim day of rest, in defiance of the attack.

US President George Bush assured the Iraqi government of continued American military support. “I strongly condemn the action,” said Mr Bush. “It reminds us, though, that there is an enemy willing to bomb innocent people and a symbol of democracy.”

Mr Bush’s troop surge of 21,500 US soldiers, launched two months ago, has taken the number of US and Iraqi troops on the ground in Baghdad to 100,000 in a last-ditch strategy to restore security in the volatile capital.

Yet while the new security plan has resulted in a reduction of violence in Baghdad, this has been offset by an increase in attacks carried out away from the capital, which critics have said indicates that the crackdown will only temporarily geographically redistribute the activities of a determined insurgency.

Certainly, the audacious and symbolic suicide bombing within the Green Zone appears to drive home the message that the insurgency intends to defy the crackdown and continue its campaign of violence.

A lingering concern is the need for the Shiite-led Maliki government to effect political reconciliation with minority Sunni and Kurdish populations that will unite the country and provide a longer term solution to the cycle of violence.

The US Senate is currently trying to negotiate changes to President Bush’s Iraq policy to introduce US troop withdrawal timelines alongside political benchmarks for the Maliki government, with the aim of slowly reducing dependence on US troops and transferring to the Iraqis a higher level of responsibility for security and governance.


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