Bomb scare forces evacuation of Iraqi parliament

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 3, 2009 

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A bomb scare forced the evacuation Saturday of the Iraqi parliament building after explosives-sniffing dogs alerted authorities to a possible threat an hour before lawmakers were to meet.

The Iraqi government issued no statement about whether explosives were found in the building, citing an ongoing investigation. The evacuation only heightened concerns about security breaches in Iraqi government buildings, which were targeted in August by coordinated bombings that killed 100 people and injured hundreds of others.

Five members of parliament told McClatchy that they learned of the threat when security guards blocked them from entering the hall where they were scheduled to discuss two contentious topics: rewriting Iraqi election law and a corruption investigation in the Electricity Ministry. The area was evacuated, the politicians said, and the session was postponed to Sunday.

The legislators said a bomb-sniffing dog that always searches the hall before parliament meets zeroed in on an area usually reserved for politicians from the bloc of militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr. At least three other dogs were brought in to confirm the search, the officials said, and all of them alerted their handlers to the same spot. It was unclear whether significant explosives material was discovered at the scene.

Hassan Sneid, a legislator and close adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, said the search was over and that authorities "only found traces" of suspicious material. He joked that it could've been bleach tracked in on a politician's shoe.

Members of Sadr's political bloc, however, regarded the incident with grave concern, hinting that the scare was a message to them for their strong criticism of the government and their insistence on changes to the electoral law that could put larger, more established parties at a disadvantage in the January vote.

"I'm sure the government will try to downplay this and say it was nothing, that maybe it was just an error," said Bahaa al Araji, a lawmaker from the Sadrist faction. "But I trust dogs more than I trust humans."

Security at the parliament was heightened in 2007, when a bomb exploded in the building's cafeteria, killing one legislator. Now, each politician is searched at least twice and specialized dogs do security sweeps before each session.

Also Saturday, Iraqi security forces announced the detention of at least 100 people in the volatile northern city of Mosul as part of an offensive that began earlier this week to root out suspected insurgents. The Iraqi military gave no details on the arrests, which were carried out in secrecy to prevent the escape of suspects, Mosul authorities said. The detainees were expected to be transferred to Baghdad for interrogation.

Dulaimy is a special correspondent for McClatchy. Special correspondent Jinan Hussein contributed.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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