First Person: Green Zone Bombing

Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Baghdad Bureau Chief
Friday, April 13, 2007; 11:00 AM

Washington Post Baghdad Bureau Chief Sudarsan Raghavan was in a Green Zone cafeteria on Thursday when it was struck by a suicide bomber, who killed an Iraqi lawmaker and wounded 22. He was online Friday, April 13 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the attack inside the U.S. base of operations.

In an Instant, a Junkyard of Humanity (Post, April 13)

A transcript follows.


Sun Prairie, Wisc.: Mr. Raghavan: No questions, really. I'm glad you made it out with, as you write, only minor injuries. Thanks for your work letting us know what is going on over there.

Sudarsan Raghavan: Thanks. This was one of the closest brushes with death that I have ever faced in my career. Many readers have sent e-mails asking about Saad al-Izzi, one of our Iraqi correspondents, and me. I just want to start off by thanking everyone for their concern. Saad and I are feeling better today. We are extremely fortunate, given that so many Iraqis suffered far greater injuries.


Washington, D.C.: Was this the first real attack inside the Green Zone? Did Green Zoners previously have a feeling of total security that now has been shattered? I guess I'm just trying to get a sense of how people in the zone are feeling now (perhaps also vis a vis the surge). Thanks -- and I'm glad you're not harmed ... The Washington Post is doing a tremendous job over there.

Sudarsan Raghavan: Thanks again, and this is a great question to start with. In recent weeks, mortars and rockets have hit the Green Zone and there have been a few bomb scares. Still, hardly anyone, American or Iraqi, expected a suicide bomber to enter the largest, most fortified enclave in Baghdad. The mood today is one of shock and despair. You hear everyday Iraqis asking questions like: How can our government protect us when it can't even protect itself?

U.S. officials are concerned the attack could deepen the divide in Iraq's fractured government, and slow down steps toward political reconciliation.


San Francisco: Thank you for joining us for this chat today. Can you explain how it's possible for a suicide bomber to get so far into the secure part of the Green Zone? Yesterday's incidents make me wonder whether we are getting any truth at all from our government about what's happening where you are. Please stay safe!

Sudarsan Raghavan: Thanks San Francisco, one of my favorite cities. This is the million dollar question everyone is asking in Iraq today. To enter the Green Zone, you must pass armed U.S. soldiers, security contractors, metal detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs, and several identity checks. The speculation here is that it was an inside job, perhaps by a bodyguard of a politician, who could have bypassed the security measures. An investigation has been launched. We shall see what turns up.


Raleigh, N.C.: The perpetrator was supposedly a bodyguard for a member of parliament. Do we know anything (name, party, religious affiliation) of that member?

Sudarsan Raghavan: Hi Raleigh ... please see my answer to San Francisco. So far, this is all speculation.


Washington: I find it very surprising to hear the conflict in the number of dead -- is there any chance this is some kind of cover-up? How could there only be one death; is it possible that a member of parliament was the bomber?

Sudarsan Raghavan: Hello Washington. The U.S. military's explanation (they were the source for the eight dead) is they initially based their figure on eyewitness accounts. Now, they say the U.S. military hospital inside the Green Zone, where many of the wounded were taken to, saw only one fatality. But the military has not ruled out the possibility that victims could have been taken to hospitals outside the Green Zone. Iraq's Interior Ministry says that two people died. Typically, when they refer to death tolls, they do not include the suicide bomber.


New York: Couldn't the suicide bomber have achieved a lot more casualties? Why was the casualty toll relatively low? Glad you are all right.

Sudarsan Raghavan: Good question New York, and thanks for your concern. I can only offer a theory. The toll was low because the bomber carried a small amount of explosives without attaching ball bearings or nails, a trademark of most bombers to cause maximum destruction. Why? Because to enter the Parliament building, you need to go through a metal detector.


Arlington, Va.: Does this experience give you a better appreciation for what the citizens of Iraq have to put up with every day?

Sudarsan Raghavan: Hello Arlington. Yes, it does. But only a sliver of their pain, their fears, and their loss. Take my experience and multiply it by a hundred times, and you'll know what Iraqis go through every day. They are truly among the world's most courageous and resilient people. I watched as dozens of Iraqis went back into the Parliament building after the bombing to save the wounded and bring out the dead.


Houston: Your article this morning was absolutely compelling. Two things particularly jumped out at me -- the Iraqi saying this was a curse for "the stealing, the corruption." Any idea who this was? Any plans to follow up? Also, the U.S. embassy official who referred to "this experiment."

Sudarsan Raghavan: thanks Houston, where my sister lives. I don't know who said that line. He was among the jumble of voices that were on the tape recording of the moments after the bombing.


Wheaton, Md.: This attack appears to be an "insider job." If so, does it prove that the terrorists have infiltrated the government and they are really one in the same?

Sudarsan Raghavan: Greetings Wheaton. Yes, there is speculation that it might be an insider job. But we've also just learned that the Islamic State of Iraq, an Al Qaeda-linked group, has taken responsibility for yesterday's bombing. This hasn't been independently confirmed, but if true, it does raises questions of how their agents were able to infiltrate the Green Zone.


Bethesda, Md.: I'm blown away by your ability to write such a vivid, clearheaded article so soon after the bombing. Didn't listening to your tape bring flashbacks or fear?

Sudarsan Raghavan: Thanks Bethesda. I just wrote what I saw, heard, smelled, and felt. The tape did not bring flashbacks or fear. It helped me understand the impact of a bombing's initial moments.


Fairfax, Va.: Your article this morning was electrifying and conveyed a reality that other recent visitors (McCain) seemed to have missed. What does the attack you thankfully lived through portend for the Green Zone in the days to come? Could it actually be overrun?

Sudarsan Raghavan: Hello Fairfax. This attack is a public relations nightmare for the Bush administration. I think in the coming days, you'll see a clamoring for answers to how what was considered the safest place in Baghdad was breached. And of course, we'll likely see even more intense security measures.


Fremont, Ohio: What is your theory on how a bomb cold have gotten past all of the security you described in your article this morning?

Sudarsan Raghavan: Hello Fremont. Please see my answer above to New York.


Anonymous: Is there a sense that, for such a security breach to happen, some lawmakers and their entourage must be involved?

Sudarsan Raghavan: Hi Anonymous. Please see my answer to Raleigh and San Francisco.


Chicago: Do you and your colleagues discuss or do your security people discuss what to do when these things happen, as far as where to go, what to look for in case there is a secondary attack? I guess what I am asking is do you have security and do you make plans every time you go out? Or do you just run to where you think it is safe?

Sudarsan Raghavan: Hi Chicago. Protecting our staff is our highest priority. I cannot discuss our security measures publicly, but we are constantly reviewing our methods and looking for ways to improve them.


Southwick, Mass.: Do you think this will have a significant impact on the functions of the Iraqi Parliament? It is widely known that legislators are already under constant threat.

Sudarsan Raghavan: Hello Southwick, Mass. It's too early to tell. Today, they met, clearly intending to send a message that they will not be cowed by the bombing. Yet many parliamentarians were absent. As you not, Iraq's politicians are under constant pressure. And as long as the government remains fractured, with politicians more beholden to their sect and tribe rather than the nation, Iraq's politicians will continue to be under fire.


Fairfax, Va.: Do you anticipate that this incident will embolden the insurgents to launch further green zone or military base attacks?

Sudarsan Raghavan: Hi Fairfax. The insurgents were emboldened long before yesterday's bombing. They have launched attacks on the Green Zone for the past few months, although nothing as devastating.

_______________________ Raw Audio: Aftermath of the Green Zone Attack


College Park, Md.: Could you please give an update as to the security for lines entering the Green Zone, especially for translators and other Iraqi employees? Thank you.

Sudarsan Raghavan: Hi College Park. The U.S. military vets translators and Iraqi employees before handing them identity cards that allow them entry into the Green Zone. They take finger prints and conduct other biometric screening. Iraqis also need letters from their foreign employers, and have to show several forms of national identification cards to access the Green Zone.


Warrenville, Ill.: Mr. Raghavan -- first of all, congratulations on surviving the attack with (comparatively) minor injuries. And thanks for serving as American eyes and ears in that civil war. Now a question: Am I correct in understanding that Sen. McCain's casual stroll through a market was inside the Green Zone? If so, doesn't this attack undermine his assertion that at least the Green Zone is at peace? Can the Iraqi parliament take any action to defuse the violence, or is the situation now so hateful that only a total victory by one side with an imposition of totalitarian rule will provide way out of the current chaos? (Disclaimer: I no longer can imagine what the Bush White House means by "victory," so I use the word as carefully as possible.)

Sudarsan Raghavan: Thanks, Warrenville. Sen. McCain's stroll was inside the Shorja Market, which is outside the Green Zone. There are certainly many Iraqis who believe that only a strong man, from the same mold as Saddam Hussein, can end Iraq's chaos. But that, I believe, would fly in the face of the Bush Administration's goals to forge democracy in Iraq. Besides, I don't think we've reached that dire of a stage in Iraq's post-invasion evolution.


Chicago: Did you get questioned by the authorities -- Iraq or U.S. -- after the attack? What you saw, heard, etc.?

Sudarsan Raghavan: Hello Chicago. An easy question: No.


Washington: Very chilling account of your experience yesterday ... my perception is that the general media here provides very few first-person descriptions of an actual bombing in Iraq, let alone that of an experienced journalist. Do you feel that the possible lack of coverage regarding the emotional aspects of going through such experiences has left many Americans feeling apathetic about the conflict? I feel that many Americans will just turn off the TV and go back to eating their dinners.

Sudarsan Raghavan: Greetings Washington. It's definitely more difficult than ever to report from Iraq, especially the human stories that evoke a sense of place and time. But I don't think the American people are apathetic. Our Iraq stories are usually the most read coverage on our Web site, including the daily news stories. But I do agree that stories that humanize the Iraqi plight or the experience of US troops deepen the understanding of American readers in ways that daily images of bombings and mayhem never can these days.


Washington: Which is a bigger event, the bombing in the Green Zone, or the destruction of a river crossing within the city? Each has different impacts, but the Iraqis who were killed in the Green Zone can be replaced overnight. The bridge won't be operational for some time ahead.

Sudarsan Raghavan: Hello Washington. Both events, arriving on the same day, were traumatic to Iraqis. Both are equally big events in the Iraqi psyche. And finally, no Iraqi can be replaced overnight. Just ask his family.


Madison, Wis.: You said you heard someone on your tape recorder lamenting that this was payback for their stealing and corruption. What was up with that?

Sudarsan Raghavan: Hello Madison. I don't know. But many Iraqis are frustrated by the government's lack of progress in providing basic necessities. There's a collective sense that many politicians are corrupt, filling their own pockets at the expense of the Iraqi people.


Boston: At what point do you say to yourself that you are pushing your luck with your personal safety and it's time to go home?

Sudarsan Raghavan: Hi Boston. This is a good way to end my discussion. In the past hours, I've been asked this question many times. My answer is: I don't know. But it's not any time soon. This story needs to be told.


Sudarsan Raghavan: Thanks everyone for sending in such great questions. I have to get back to work now.


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