By Karin Brulliard and Saad al-Izzi
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 24, 2007
BAGHDAD, March 23 -- One of Iraq's deputy prime ministers was seriously wounded Friday in a bombing that highlighted the ability of insurgents to breach heightened security in the midst of a U.S.-led crackdown in Baghdad.
The attack against Salam Z. al-Zobaee, one of the highest-ranking Sunni Arabs in the Shiite-led government, killed at least six people and injured 15 others as they were preparing for a prayer service at Zobaee's home, Brig. Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for the Baghdad security plan, said at a news conference. The attack involved two simultaneous blasts: a suicide bombing in the house and a car bomb detonated in an attached garage.
Zobaee, whose lungs and stomach were punctured by shrapnel, underwent surgery at the U.S. military-run Ibn Sina Hospital in the fortified Green Zone, officials said. He was in stable condition Friday afternoon, according to a statement issued by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni insurgent umbrella network that includes the group al-Qaeda in Iraq, asserted responsibility for the attack in an Internet statement, saying Zobaee was a "betrayer" for joining the government.
"We ask Allah . . . that this betrayer vagabond who sold his religion and his people for a small price not be safe. We say to all betrayers of the infidel al-Maliki government . . . wait for what will hurt you," the statement said, according to a translation by the SITE Institute, an organization that tracks terrorism. The authenticity of the statement could not be confirmed.
A top aide to Zobaee said the suicide bomber was sneaked onto the property over a back fence by one of Zobaee's cooks. The cook briefly hid the bomber between the fence and blast walls, then sneaked the attacker inside when security guards went to pray, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he fears retaliation. The car that was used as a bomb belonged to the cook, who escaped and remains at large, the aide said.
Zobaee, one of two deputy prime ministers, is a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, part of the main Sunni bloc in the Shiite-led parliament. In 2005, the party joined other Sunni organizations in urging Iraqis to vote against a proposed new constitution, before switching gears and announcing its support of the charter. At the time, Sunni insurgents, including al-Qaeda in Iraq, threatened to kill the party's members for breaking from the Sunni opposition.
Sunni insurgents have appeared to assert themselves recently by meting out deadly violence against Sunnis who have cooperated with Americans or the Iraqi government.
In the past two weeks, Sunni insurgents have bombed five police stations in the majority-Sunni town of Duluiyah, 45 miles north of Baghdad.
Last week, insurgents bombed an Iraqi army observation post in the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi, the heart of the Sunni insurgency.
Dhafir al-Ani, a member of parliament from the Iraqi Islamic Party, said the attack against Zobaee showed that violence remains a major obstacle in the path to political stability.
"They are developing ways to beat the measures of the security plan," he said of Sunni insurgents. "All of us are targeted. And terrorists can get into bedrooms."
Zobaee's house, just outside the Green Zone, is inside a compound that encompasses many news agencies and the homes of other Iraqi political leaders.
The attack followed by a day a rocket attack that shook the hall where Maliki was holding a news conference with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Last month, Iraq's Shiite vice president was wounded in an explosion inside the Ministry of Public Works.
Iraqi officials quickly condemned Friday's attack. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who is in his final days on the job in Baghdad, called the bombing "an example of what the forces of evil will do to try to intimidate the Iraqi people."
In an interview at his residence shortly before the bombing, Khalilzad said that he now sees al-Qaeda in Iraq as "the big threat" to stability in Iraq. In previous interviews, Khalilzad had pinpointed Shiite militias, such as cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, as Iraq's main troublemakers.
"They are refusing this political process," Ayad Samarrae, a member of parliament who belongs to the Iraqi Islamic Party, said of Sunni insurgents. "And it is clear that they are targeting all those who are a part of it."
Also Friday, the U.S. military announced the death of a Marine who was killed Thursday in Anbar province, west of Baghdad.
Special correspondent Waleed Saffar contributed to this report.