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Iraqis hope attack on parliament will spur politicians to act

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Everyday Iraqis, contemplating Thursday's brazen suicide attack on the parliament building deep in Baghdad's heavily guarded Green Zone, said Friday that they saw a silver lining in the wreckage: Now their political leaders know what life is like in the rest of the capital.

"If it happens inside parliament, what do you think goes on in the streets?" said Hussein Ali, 22, who was working at his sandwich stand just outside the Green Zone a few weeks ago when a car bomb exploded not 50 feet away. Five bystanders were killed.

Iraqis long have complained that Iraq's leaders and their American counterparts live a cloistered life in the Green Zone that gives them little sense of the dangers average people face every day. Protected by fortified compounds and personal security details in a 4-square-mile fortress of checkpoints and blast walls, politicians felt little urgency to resolve the divisions that are at the root of the country's sectarian warfare, Iraqis grumbled.

"Let them feel it," said Abbas Fadhil, 30, whose butcher shop also sits near where the car bomb killed the five bystanders a few weeks ago. "It might end all the doubts that Sunnis have about Shiites and Shiites have about Sunnis."

"This could be for our benefit. This might help to unify their hearts and make them come together."

Clearly, Thursday's bombing shook Iraq's parliament, physically and psychically. One lawmaker was killed and 22 others wounded in the midafternoon blast, which devastated a cafeteria on the building's second floor.

Despite Friday being the Muslim day of prayer and rest, lawmakers convened a rare special session that many described as a show of solidarity with their long-suffering constituents.

Neda Mohammed Ibrahim, a Sunni Muslim legislator who was injured in the bombing and appeared wearing a neck brace, told the chamber: "I could not think of my pain yesterday in the hospital or of the pain of my colleagues, but of the Iraqis who are subject to such terrorism, sectarian violence, killing and pain every day."

Initial reports had put the death toll at eight, but U.S. officials revised that tally Friday to one, citing confusion at the bomb scene, where victims were being evacuated in multiple directions.

Lawmakers identified their dead colleague as Mohammed Awad, a member of the National Dialogue Front, a Sunni party. His seat in the chamber was decorated Friday with a bouquet of flowers. Hada al-Ameri, a Shiite Muslim, called him a "martyred hero" who sought "a way to keep the Iraqi people united."

Most of the other seats were empty. Only 117 members—less than half the chamber—showed up, a fact that some lawmakers attributed to a Muslim ban on driving on Fridays.

Those who came submitted to unprecedented security checks outside the Green Zone, where American troops stood watch over checkpoints, and at the entrance to the parliament, where extra Iraqi security agents conducted body searches. The government imposed a citywide vehicle ban while the lawmakers met.

Underscoring the Green Zone's vulnerability, American explosives experts detonated an unexploded device Friday afternoon that was discovered about a half-mile from the parliament building. There were no further details on what type of device it was but Lt. Col. Chris Garver, a U.S. military spokesman, said such incidents were routine, occurring once or twice a month.

In an Internet statement, the Islamic State of Iraq, an insurgent group that's linked to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack. Iraqi police were focusing their investigation on lawmakers' bodyguards, who have regular access to the Green Zone but often are searched less closely by security officers.

An Iraqi police major told McClatchy Newspapers that pieces of a Glock pistol—the type of weapon that the Iraqi Defense Ministry issues to lawmakers' security details—were found on the attacker's body. The major asked not to be named because he wasn't authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation.

Bodyguards are suspected in two recent assassination attempts involving high-profile politicians. In November, in the parliament parking lot, a car bomb planted in parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani's motorcade exploded but caused no serious injuries. Last month, a suicide attacker wounded the Sunni deputy prime minister, Salam al-Zobaie, at his home just outside the Green Zone.

Investigators also were probing why the attack—which occurred shortly after lunchtime, when the cafeteria was filled with a few dozen legislators and staff members—didn't result in more fatalities. One theory was that the bomb wasn't packed with steel nails, ball bearings or other destructive objects that would have tripped metal detectors.

The attack undermined U.S. officials' attempts to highlight progress under a two-month-old security crackdown that they say has reduced sectarian killings by 26 percent.

The crackdown has angered some lawmakers, including members of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the leading Sunni group, who think that they're being singled out for house searches.

The interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani, told lawmakers that the plan had shortcomings and the ministry was considering retaking control of security in the Green Zone. Currently some private companies, including a Peruvian firm, work checkpoints and conduct badge checks.

While lawmakers met Friday, the cafeteria, a short distance away, remained coated with dust and debris, with chairs badly burned and glass tables smashed to pieces. Papers and leather satchels sat where their owners had left them in panic.

Scattered about the room were the remains of the man who investigators think blew himself up with a suicide vest: bits of flesh dotting the floor, splotches of blood on the walls and ceiling, and two naked legs with black leather shoes still tied on.


(McClatchy Newspapers special correspondents Mohammed al Dulaimy and Hussein Kadhim contributed to this report.)


(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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