Few lawmakers attend Iraqi parliament

US revises estimate of number of people killed in Thursday's bomb from 8 to 1.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Few Iraqi lawmakers managed to attend a rare emergency legislative session Friday, a day after a suicide bomber ripped through their cafeteria in the deadliest-ever attack inside Baghdad's US-guarded Green Zone. At least two legislators were killed. The US military issued a statement Friday revising down its estimate of the number of people killed in the attack, from eight to one. But Iraqi lawmakers and officials said at least two people were killed - both Sunni members of parliament. Friday's emergency meeting had been scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., but began nearly 1.5 hours late - apparently because of low turnout and increased security measures. Many lawmakers were unable to reach the parliament building, whose interior was still in shambles Friday, because of a weekly driving ban on the Muslim day of rest. "Very few parliament members showed up because of the curfew," said Mohammed Abu Bakr, head of the parliament's media office. "Also the MPs' turnout is very low today because most of them are visiting those who were wounded by the blast," he said. Parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani called for the session - a rare occurrence on Friday - to "defy terrorism," state television quoted him as saying. State-run Iraqiya television's transmission was draped Friday in a black mourning banner. Regular programming aired, but the screen had a black stripe across the upper left hand corner. Several TV channels replayed images Friday of the moment of the attack and the minutes following: a flash and an orange ball of fire causing Jalaluddin al-Saghir, a startled parliament member who was being interviewed, to duck. Smoke and dust billowed through the area, and confused and frightened lawmakers and others could be heard screaming for help. Al-Saghir escaped injury. But a woman was shown kneeling over what appeared to be a wounded or dead man near a table and chairs. The camera then focused on a bloody, severed leg - apparently that of the suicide bomber. The US military said Friday that one Iraqi civilian was killed and 22 injured in the attack. The night before, US military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell had said eight people died. "Yesterday's reports were based on initial reports from the scene. During evacuation operations, emergency responders and eyewitnesses reported that casualties were being evacuated in multiple directions," the statement said. The stunning breach of security at parliament - along with another bombing the same day that destroyed a historic bridge across the mighty Tigris river and killed at least 11 people - struck a blow to a two-month-old US-Iraqi effort to pacify the capital. Violence was down slightly in Baghdad, but the effort to put thousands of additional troops on the streets has failed to halt spectacular attacks like Thursday's. Abu Bakr said cleanup inside the parliament building had not yet begun, because investigators were still combing through the debris for clues as to who was behind the attack and how they penetrated the tightest security in Baghdad - the heavily-fortified Green Zone compound, which houses the US Embassy as well as offices of the Iraqi government. "The cafeteria is still not clean. There is still flesh of the bomber on the floor," he said. "Broken glass has not bee removed, and the meeting hall is still full of dust." Security officials at parliament, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, said they believed the cafeteria bomber was a bodyguard of a Sunni lawmaker who was not among the casualties. Caldwell said the attack bore the trademarks of al-Qaida in Iraq. "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-Qaida," he said. US forces captured 14 suspected al-Qaida in Iraq members in raids early Friday, the military said in a statement. One of the lawmakers killed in the parliament attack, Mohammed Awad, was a member of the moderate Sunni National Dialogue Front, according to party leader Saleh al-Mutlaq. A female Sunni lawmaker from the same list was wounded, he said. The second dead lawmaker was Taha al-Liheibi, a fellow Sunni and a key go-between in government efforts to negotiate with Sunni insurgents about putting down their arms and joining the political process, officials said. Niamah al-Mayahi, a member of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance bloc, initially was reported killed by Saleh al-Aujaili, a fellow member of the bloc. Later, government officials said al-Mayahi was gravely wounded, but it was not immediately possible to reconcile the reports. Nevertheless, it would be the second time in less than a month that a bodyguard wearing a suicide vest attacked a Sunni official. On March 23 a member of Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie's security detail exploded his suicide vest and seriously wounded al-Zubaie, the highest-ranking Sunni in the Iraqi government. On Friday, police said 11 civilians had been killed in the bridge bombing a day earlier. Seven were killed in the explosion by a powerful suicide truck bomb, and four perished when their cars plummeted into the river below, police said. At least 39 people were injured, including three Iraqi soldiers. Two civilians are still missing, they said. A roadside bomb killed one policeman and wounded four others in southern Baghdad on Friday, police said. A civilian was also wounded.