Thursday, April 12, 2007

American-imposed Parliament Bombed Inside Iraqi 'Green Zone'; Many Casualties Reported

Thursday April 12, 7:34 PM

Blast rips through Iraq parliament canteen


A blast ripped through a canteen in the Iraqi parliament complex inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone on Thursday, causing casualties, a correspondent for state television said.

Iraqiya television flashed a bulletin at the bottom of the screen but no other details were immediately given about the explosion, which marks a major breach of security in the most heavily guarded site in Iraq.

Mobile telephones and landlines in central Baghdad around the Green Zone were not able to be reached after the blast.

The US military said it was tracking media reports of an explosion inside the sprawling Green Zone compound, also home to the Iraqi government and foreign embassies.

The blast occurred just hours after a suicide bomber blew up a truck on a major bridge across the Tigris River in Baghdad, killing 10 people and sending cars plunging from the wrecked structure into the waters below.

Although American and Iraqi officials have been upbeat about a reduction in execution-style killings since launching a huge security crackdown nearly two months ago in Baghdad, they have admitted car bombings remain a curse.

On Wednesday, the US military for the first time charged that Shiite Iran was supporting Sunni extremist groups which are known to trigger such high-profile vehicle bombs against civilians and security forces.

A large part of the Al-Sarafiyah Bridge, one of the oldest in the Iraqi capital, collapsed under the force of Thursday's blast.

River police were seen racing to the scene on patrol boats and divers donned oxygen cylinders to search the murkey waters for survivors.

Ten people were reported killed and 26 wounded, a security official said, with two officials saying four cars tumbled off the bridge which connects the Shiite Al-Atafiyah neighbourhood on the western bank of the Tigris to the Sunni district of Waziriyah on the east.

A witness, who gave his name only as Jawad, told an AFP photographer that he was on the bridge trying to fix a puncture to his vehicle loaded with cooking gas when he saw a man park a truck nearby and run off.

"I saw the man get out of the vehicle and run away towards Al-Waziriyah. I was astonished and told an army patrol, " he said.

The witness said Iraqi soldiers sealed off the bridge to traffic before the truck exploded, perhaps explaining why the death toll was not higher.

Security officials, however, said it was a suicide truck bomb.

On Wednesday, US military spokesman Major General William Caldwell admitted that the overall Iraqi death toll had risen by 10 percent in March alone, 15 percent more than in February.

In a sign that the American military is straining to meet its commitments, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said soldiers will see their tours of duty in Iraq extended by three months.

"Effective immediately, active army units now in the Central Command area (Iraq and Afghanistan) and those headed there will deploy for not more than 15 months," Gates said -- an increase from the current one-year deployments.

Gates acknowledged that US forces are stretched with the foreign deployments, however. "There's no question about that," he said.

The new measure allows the army to maintain the surge in Iraq "probably at least" until April 2008.

Amid rising tensions between Iran and the United States, Caldwell said that the military suspected Iranian agents were supporting Sunni extremist groups, something which US administration has never said before.

Washington has regularly charged that Shiite Iran was funding and training Iraq's Shiite militias but Wednesday's accusation that the former-foe of Iraq was also aiding Sunni groups was a first.

"We do have now some information that Iranian intelligence agencies have supported some Sunni extremist groups," Caldwell told reporters.

Caldwell displayed a cache of recently made explosives, bearing dates of 2005 and 2006, which he said were made in Iran and were found on Monday in a car in Baghdad's Sunni district of Jihad.

The US commander also accused the Iranians of training Iraqi groups on how to assemble explosively-formed projectiles -- a type of armour-piercing roadside bomb that has caused scores of coalition casualties.

"We know that training goes down there in Iran," Caldwell said, without giving further details or any source for the intelligence.

Explosion at Iraq parliament cafe

An explosion has hit a cafeteria at the Iraqi parliament, killing at least two MPs and injuring at least 15 people, witnesses and security officials say.

Police said they believed a suicide bomber was involved, but that they were keeping an open mind about the cause.

The cafe, in Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone, is for MPs and their staff, some of whom were having lunch there.

Earlier, a bomb on a bridge in Baghdad killed at least eight people and sent several cars into the River Tigris.

The bridge and the cafeteria attacks are major blows to the much trumpeted Baghdad security surge now in its third month, the BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says.

The security drive has brought down the rate of sectarian murders, but it has not stopped the bomb attacks.


MP Mohammed Hassan Awad from the National Dialogue bloc (a Sunni group not part of the government) was killed in the blast.

Another MP was also killed and at least three more parliamentarians were among the injured, a police source told the BBC.

The security around the parliament building and around the whole of the Green Zone is extremely tight, so it is very hard to see how a bomb could have been smuggled in there, says our correspondent.

The bomb went off 10 minutes after the parliament had adjourned for lunch.

It exploded in the cafeteria on the first floor where the deputies, their staff and parliamentary officials were taking their break.

Windows were blown out and there was chaos and confusion.

One witness said there were many casualties, but most telecommunications were disrupted and no clear figures were available.

"We heard a huge explosion inside the restaurant," a parliamentary official at the scene told Reuters news agency.

"We went to see what was going on. We saw lots of smoke coming from the hall, with people lying on the ground and pools of blood."


It is the first time a bomb has gone off inside the parliament building although it has been shaken by several mortar attacks in the past.

Access to the building is subject to very tight additional security measures. Several of its members have been assassinated outside the Green Zone.

The bombing of the Sarafiya bridge, one of the main arterial bridges in Baghdad, had been condemned by the speaker of parliament a short time before the explosion in his own building.

The bridge, one of the main linking the two halves of the capital across the Tigris river, was partially demolished by a huge truck bomb.

Are you in Iraq? Do you know anyone who has been affected by the bomb blasts? Send us your comments.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/04/12 12:50:14 GMT

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