3 Deadly Blasts Hit Iraq Ahead of Security Pact Vote

By Sudarsan Raghavan and Qais Mizher
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

BAGHDAD, Nov. 24 -- Three bombings targeting Iraqi government employees and the U.S.-fortified Green Zone killed at least 20 people and left scores wounded Monday, two days before the Iraqi parliament is expected to vote on a controversial security agreement with the United States.

The attacks illustrated the vulnerability of Iraq's security apparatus and the lingering defiance of an insurgency whose influence has declined in recent months.

In the deadliest attack, a magnetic bomb demolished a bus used by employees of the Ministry of Trade, killing 14 people and wounding seven, police said. Eight women were among the dead. The bomb, police said, was attached to the fuel tank of the bus, which erupted in flames.

Fuad Falih, a policeman guarding a checkpoint about 90 feet from the site of the explosion, said one of the victims was a pregnant woman. Hospital officials said many of the victims were incinerated in the bus.

"We have seen many victims of bombing before, but we never cried about them like this one," Falih said.

In the second attack, a suicide bomber blew herself up as she waited in line to be searched at an entrance to the Green Zone, killing five people and wounding 12, police said. All of the dead were government employees, witnesses said.

The U.S. military said in a statement that the bombing killed two people and injured nine. The heavily protected Green Zone includes the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government buildings.

An Iraqi army commander said the attacker wore a traditional head-to-toe black abaya that concealed the bomb.

"One of the guards tried to stop her, but she exploded herself, killing him," said the commander, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. "Her explosive belt was loaded with small metal balls, which caused many injuries."

Insurgents have long used mortar shells and car bombs to strike entrances to the Green Zone. The most recent such attack occurred Oct. 7, when two explosions injured two Iraqi soldiers and several civilians.

Also on Monday, a roadside bomb in eastern Baghdad killed one person and injured five, including three members of a police patrol that was apparently the intended target, police said.

Meanwhile, Iraq's parliament is expected to meet Wednesday to vote on a security pact that would allow U.S. troops to remain in Iraq until the end of 2011 and require them to work more closely with Iraqi forces.

A simple majority of 138 votes in the 275-seat parliament is required to approve the deal. With the majority of Shiites and Kurdish lawmakers supporting the agreement, approval is likely.

But Iraq's preeminent Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has said that the agreement should have support from all of Iraq's sects for it to be seen as legitimate.

Many Sunni politicians, concerned that the pact could give too much power to Iraq's Shiite-led government, have not yet declared their support. Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni who is the parliament speaker, has urged about 50 lawmakers to delay traveling to Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca until after the vote.

Special correspondent K.I. Ibrahim contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company