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A Bloody Message From Iraq:
Nowhere Is Safe

By Patrick Cockburn

14 April, 2007
The Independent

Nowhere is safe. Insurgents struck in the heart of the Green Zone yesterday, one of the most heavily defended places in Baghdad. The symbolism - and the bloody message - was clear with this attack on the home to the US-imposed democracy.

A suicide bomber cleared at least eight rings of security to blow himself up in the Iraqi parliament, killing eight people including three lawmakers as they were eating lunch. It was the most deadly attack mounted from within the Green Zone.

In a separate attack, the Iraqi capital was cut in two as one of the main bridges over the Tigris was blown up earlier in the day.

The Green Zone bombing was not only an assault on democracy. It was intended to undermine President George Bush's troop "surge", which is denounced as a sham by so many Iraqis.

But even Iraqis hardened to violence were shocked by the bloody scene in parliament. "I saw a ball of fire and heard a huge, loud explosion," said one witness. "There were pieces of flesh floating in the air."

The bodyguard of a Sunni member of parliament is suspected of detonating a vest packed with explosives in the restaurant beside the chamber where parliament meets. The success of a suicide bomber in penetrating one of the most tightly guarded buildings in the world could only have happened if he had help from other security men. The Iraqi parliament is well inside the heavily fortified Green Zone and is protected by eight layers of security, including at least three checks for explosives.

President Bush condemned the attack saying: "It reminds us that there is an enemy willing to bomb innocent people in a symbol of democracy."

The bombing is likely to increase scepticism that the two-month old American campaign to get control of Baghdad, the "surge", is achieving very much.

The suicide bombing is one of the most dramatic demonstrations of the extent to which the Sunni insurgents have infiltrated the government's own security apparatus. Other recent examples include the serious wounding of the deputy prime minister Salam al-Zubaie on 23 March by a bomber who got near him with the connivance of his own bodyguards.

The 275-member Iraqi parliament meets on the first floor of a cavernous building, originally built by Saddam Hussein to hold meetings of Islamic nations. Immediately outside the assembly hall is a restaurant. It was there, beside the cash register, that the bomber blew himself up.

The sensitivity of the US and the Iraqi government to the breach in security was apparent because all television cameras and video tapes showing the immediate aftermath of the blast were confiscated and handed to US authorities.

The only footage to be shown was by al-Hurra channel, shot seconds after the attack, it showed a dusty hallway with people screaming for help. One man is shown slumped in the dust.

Mohammed Abu Bakr, the head of media at the parliament, said: "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."

Of the three members of parliament to die, two were from Sunni parties and one from the Shia alliance. Khalaf al-Ilyan, one of the leaders of the Iraqi Accordance Front, said the explosion "underlines the failure of the government security plan."

"The plan is 100 per cent a failure," said Mr al-Ilyan. "It's a complete flop. The explosion means instability and the lack of security has reached the Green Zone, which the government boasts is heavily fortified."

Shia and Kurdish members of parliament have long claimed the bodyguards of Sunni politicians are infiltrated by insurgents. Some 92 per cent of Iraq's five million strong Sunni community say they support armed resistance against the US.

The Green Zone itself is four miles square in the centre of Baghdad. It is heavily defended but some 5,000 Iraqis live inside it. It is defended by a mixture of soldiers, private security personel and bodyguards of uncertain loyalty. Some weeks ago, the US military said they had found two suicide vests inside the zone.

In the US, leaders tried to give the impression that the "surge" was going ahead as planned and is, in any case, only in its initial stages.

"We've said there are going to be good days and bad days concerning the security plan," said the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, who visited Baghdad earlier in the month, said the US security plan was beginning to show modest results. He said "spectacular" attacks like that yesterday on parliament were aimed at grabbing headlines. He had earlier claimed that the media were exaggerating the collapse of security in Baghdad.

In the second attack yesterday, a truck bomb exploded on the al-Sarafiya bridge over the Tigris, which links east and west Baghdad, killing at least 10 people and injuring 26.

"A huge explosion shook our house and I thought it would demolish our house," said Farhan al-Sudani, a Shia businessman who lives near by. "Me and my wife jumped immediately from our bed, grabbed our three kids and took them outside."

Some 20 people who were in cars that crashed into the river after the blast were still missing last night. Among the 10 confirmed dead were four policemen whose patrol car fell into the river. All that was left of the steel bridge, built by the British authorities 75 years ago, was twisted girders.

Although President Bush has been seeking to blame Iran for supporting the insurgency in Iraq there is little evidence for that. The great majority of attacks on US forces are by Sunni guerrillas in Sunni districts. There have been battles with Shia militia but these have been intermittent. Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Mehdi Army, the largest Shia militia, has stood down his men and told them to avoid a confrontation with US forces.

The US is gradually increasing its forces to 173,000 by sending in five new brigades as part of the new security plan. But there is little sign the additional troops are altering the political and military balance in Iraq. The Sunni rebellion is continuing and is still highly effective.

Meanwhile, the Shia are increasingly hostile to the US occupation and Mr Sadr staged large anti-US demonstrations in the holy city of Najaf last weekend. So far, the US has balked at large confrontations with the Shia militias in Baghdad.

A citadel under siege

September 2003

Using shoulder-launched missiles, Iraqi insurgents strike the Al Rashid Hotel, often frequented by US military and government figures Only one of the rockets hits its target, which stands less than 500 yards from the concrete blast walls that surround the area, but the attack is a propaganda coup.


The first suicide bombing inside the Green Zone occurred when two bombers smuggled explosives into the area and detonated them in the north-eastern corner of the enclave. The blast tore through the Green Zone's bazaar, killing 10 people including four Americans.

November 2004

A mortar attack killed four employees of Global Risk Strategies, a British security firm, and wounded at least 12. The company later announced the four were former Gurkhas.

January 2005

Insurgents managed to strike the US embassy in the Green Zone by firing a salvo of rockets, killing two Americans and wounding a further four. The attack came on the eve of elections, striking a blow against the Iraqi government.

November 2006

Iraq's parliamentary speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, narrowly avoided assassination after a bomb tore through one of his cars as it passed through the Green Zone.

March 2007

Amid reports from the US Army that insurgents were stepping up mortar attacks on the Green Zone, a suicide bomber passed through security checkpoints undetected on 23 March and was able to detonate his belt next to Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie, Iraq's deputy prime minister, as he left afternoon prayers. Nine people were killed although, remarkably, Mr Zubaie survived. The attack came a day after a rocket attack on the Green Zone forced the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, to duck behind a podium for cover.

© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited


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