(by Eli Lake, NYSun.com) BAGHDAD- Americans and Iraqis are searching the fortified heart of the Iraqi capital to uncover what is emerging as a wide plot that allowed a terrorist yesterday to detonate a suicide vest inside the cafeteria of Iraq’s parliamentary building.
While American and Iraqi officials began an investigation in late March after discovering two suicide vests inside the heavily fortified area known as the Green Zone, the hunt did not prevent terrorist penetration into the inner sanctum of the Iraqi government and the American presence in Iraq.
The attack claimed the lives of eight people, including three legislators, according to wire reports. Time magazine quoted an Interior Ministry official as saying one of the metal detectors at the entrance to the parliament building was not working yesterday, suggesting that the plot could include one of the building’s security guards.
The American military handed off security responsibility to the Iraqi Interior Ministry in 2006, and Iraqi personnel now man the entrance to the Green Zone nearest the parliament building Ã¢â‚¬â€ housed in the convention center Saddam Hussein built to host a meeting of the Arab League Ã¢â‚¬â€ as well as the building’s entryway.
The attack, preceded yesterday by a truck bomb that caused the collapse of the Sarafiya bridge in the north of the city, was the first successful bombing inside Iraq’s legislature, but nonetheless spurred lawmakers to pledge to gather again where the bomber struck.
“They are trying to destroy the political process,” a Shiite legislator, Jabar Habib Jabar, said in an interview at the scene of the crime, amid ambulance sirens and shocked onlookers. “They will not succeed. The democracy will succeed. There is now no distinction between us and the Iraqi people. And we will prevail.”
After a routine day in which an international agreement on olive oil was debated and a new law to create a Youth and Sports Ministry was introduced, a man suspected of working as a bodyguard to a Sunni legislator detonated a suicide vest in the parliament building’s cafeteria. One American diplomat, whose blue suit was still covered in fine brown dust, said he saw a “big flash, then there were painful ears, and then dust everywhere.”
Shortly after the explosion, security contractors working for the American firm Triple Canopy directed fleeing parliamentarians and their staffs to a nearby parking lot, where they were detained for at least three hours. As the crowd of more than 120 grew restless and began demanding to be released, an American soldier shouted, “Get back.” Eventually, the detained were asked to form a single-file line, and one by one they were allowed to leave.
Al Qaeda is the lead suspect in the attack. Yesterday an Iraqi legislator, Mithal al-Alusi, said bluntly, “Al Qaeda has penetrated the Green Zone.”
Mr. Alusi also said some Iraqi lawmakers were warned that Al Qaeda was targeting the Iraqi parliament. “We have been informed that there might be an attack on the convention center, and we are talking about Al Qaeda,” he said.
The pattern of multiple attacks and suicide vests fits the organization’s modus operandi, but an American official cautioned that it was too soon to rule out other terrorist groups. “There are many groups that were expected to hit back,” the official, who requested anonymity, said.
“We don’t know at this point who it was. We do know in the past that suicide vests have been used predominantly by Al Qaeda,” the chief spokesman for the Multinational Force in Iraq, Major General William Caldwell, told the Associated Press.
A Sunni member of parliament, Ayad Samarrai, blamed the new security plan in Baghdad for the attacks, but he vowed to continue the business of lawmaking despite the blasts.
“It is more than one month since the security plan started. If we look at the result, regardless of the people arrested, Baghdad is not safe. The number of operations or people killed that have declined is because the Mahdi Army decided to stop some activities. But the terrorists are still here,” Mr. Samarrai, whose Iraqi Islamic Party maintains ties to some insurgents, said.
President Bush condemned the attacks yesterday after a meeting with education leaders at the White House. “It is in our interest to help this young democracy be in a position so it can sustain itself and govern itself and defend itself against these extremists and radicals,” he said.
The blast carries “huge implications,” a senior American military officer said. “It could go one of two ways. This could shake the confidence of the legislators, the ultimate intimidation effect. Or this could have a coalescing effect and strengthen resolve.”
A Kurdish lawmaker who saw the bombing inside the cafeteria, Latif Haji Dartash, said: “We have no choice but to go on. We cannot let this stop us.”
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
1. Where in Iraq did a terrorist detonate a suicide vest this week?
2. How might the suicide bomber have gotten into the building?
3. a) What group is believed to be responsible for the suicide bombing?
b) For what reasons is this assertion a strong possibility?
4. Re-read the reaction to the bombings by the following Iraqi lawmakers:
Shiite Jabar Habib Jabar (para. 6)
Sunni Ayad Samarrai (para. 13-14)
Kurd Latif Haji Dartash (para. 17)
a) Who is resigned but determined?
b) Who is resolute but pessimistic?
c) Who is determined and optimistic?
CHALLENGE QUESTION: Why do you think that one lawmaker in particular is more pessimistic than the other two?
5. a) According to an American military officer, what are the two ways Iraqi lawmakers could respond to the bombings?
b) What do you think their overall response will be? Explain your answer.
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