By Karin Brulliard and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 13, 2007
BAGHDAD, April 12 -- A suicide bomber detonated a vest packed with explosives inside Iraq's parliament building Thursday, killing at least eight people in the worst-ever breach of security in the heavily guarded Green Zone.
Elsewhere in the capital, a truck bomb destroyed a bridge over the Tigris River, killing at least one person and severing a link between the now Shiite-dominant eastern side of Baghdad with the Sunni-dominant west.
Three months after President Bush pledged more troops to stabilize Baghdad and two months after a new security plan was launched, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that the operation was still only "at the beginning" and would continue to involve "good days and bad days."
Appearing with Rice in Washington, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a presidential hopeful who this week spoke of "the first glimmers" of progress in the new U.S. effort, said the attack on the parliament building does not change the "larger picture."
The bomb ripped through the parliament's crowded cafeteria at 2:30 p.m., filling the room with thick dust and unnerving parliament members who had just finished a lively, well-attended legislative session. The U.S. military said at least eight people were killed and 23 were wounded.
Among the dead was Sunni politician Mohammed Awad, parliament members said. Iraqi state television said a second legislator, whom it did not name, also was killed.
A senior Iraqi government official said the attack may have been carried out by the bodyguard of a Sunni member of parliament. "Preliminary investigations point to a job inside, by someone inside, possibly a security detail," the senior official said on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, said in a television interview Thursday night that investigators had identified three suspects linked to the bombing.
Iraqi politicians called the blast an attack on the nation's fledgling political process and pledged to display their resolve and solidarity in a special session Friday. But the bloody attack, inside the most protected area in the city, profoundly shocked many leaders and caused some to question the effects of the heightened security efforts.
"The security plan is dead. If they are able to reach inside the parliament, then we should not talk about the security plan anymore, " said Sunni legislator Saleh al-Mutlaq.
"Nowhere is safe," said Ridha Jawad Taqi, a Shiite member of parliament.
The Green Zone, an area of about four square miles that houses much of Iraq's government as well as the U.S. Embassy, is often hit by rockets and mortar shells that sail over its concrete-wall perimeter, and those attacks have increased in recent months. But only rarely have insurgents penetrated the many checkpoints manned by U.S. soldiers, Iraqi security forces and Peruvian security guards that one must pass to enter.
In November, a bomb exploded inside the Green Zone in an armored car that belonged to the speaker of parliament, wounding no one. About two weeks ago, two unexploded suicide vests were found inside the area. Before Thursday, the most serious breach of security inside the zone occurred in October 2004, when two bombs killed six people.
While the outer rings of security checks in the zone are run by guards contracted by the U.S. military, the parliament building hires its own guards, said Maj. Shawn Stroud, a U.S. military spokesman.
Thousands of politicians, U.S. government employees, civilian service workers and delivery people enter the Green Zone each day, showing various sorts of identification badges, some of which allow their holders to pass through without being searched.
"There are many people working in the building, and I do believe that we need to review our methods and procedures," said Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Mossawi, spokesman for the Baghdad security plan.
Earlier Thursday, a tank truck rigged with explosives was detonated on the Sarafiya bridge, collapsing a beloved landmark that was both a physical and a symbolic link between the capital's eastern and western sides.
The U.S. military said one person was killed and two were wounded in the blast. But Maj. Gen. Abdul Rasool al-Zaidi, director general of civil defense at the Interior Ministry, said the explosion killed two and wounded 11, and caused at least three cars to plunge into the Tigris.
Baghdad residents lamented the damage to the steel bridge, built by the British more than 50 years ago.
The blast woke Nasir Abdul Salam, 50, who ran outside to watch the rescue efforts. "Many old men were crying for this old pal that they lost," Salam said of the bridge. "It was almost their age."
Also Thursday, one U.S. soldier was killed in a shootout north of the capital, and a second soldier died of noncombat causes, the military said.
Reacting to the Green Zone attack, the White House emphasized its commitment to the U.S. effort in Iraq. Bush, who faces growing congressional pressure for a time frame to begin a withdrawal, said his message to Iraq was that Americans "stand with you" as the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tries to achieve national reconciliation and fight an increasingly complex variety of insurgents, militias and Islamic extremists.
"This assembly is a place where people have come to represent the 12 million people who voted," the president said, referring to the parliament building. "There's a type of person that would walk in that building and kill innocent life, and that is the same type of person that is willing to come and kill innocent Americans."
Rice, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and others talked to the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, throughout the day, an unusual degree of engagement by the highest levels of the U.S. government.
In a report to be issued Friday, military expert Anthony Cordesman concludes that even if the current U.S. troop increase is a success and creates some degree of stability and political unity, the perception of most Iraqis and others in the Middle East and Europe will be that the United States "lost" the war in Iraq.
"It is more than possible that a failed president and a failed administration will preside over a failed war for the second time since Vietnam," Cordesman says in "Iraq's Troubled Future: The Uncertain Way Ahead," to be published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He previously advised McCain.
Cordesman also warns that a "security first strategy" is unworkable, particularly when it is local rather than national. "The battle for Baghdad is only a tactic," he says.
Other analysts suggested, however, that the only surprise was that an attack inside a major government installation had not happened more often.
"This is bad news, but they've been trying to secure a large area in the middle of a war zone, and the fact is that it has so far happened rarely," said Michael E. O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. "The Green Zone is still the least of our concerns."
Wright reported from Washington. Special correspondents Naseer Nouri and Waleed Saffar in Baghdad and staff researcher Robert E. Thomason in Washington contributed to this report.