Baghdad: A suicide bomber blew himself up in the Iraqi parliament canteen in Baghdad’s Green Zone Thursday, killing eight people in a major breach of security at the country’s most heavily guarded site.
An Iraqi security official said two lawmakers and a parliamentary official died and 20 people were wounded, around half of them MPs, when a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt walked in carrying a briefcase.
US military commander Major General William Caldwell later put the death toll at eight with another 23 wounded, giving no further details.
The bombing, which left pools of blood and body parts littered across the cafeteria, defied a massive US-Iraqi security crackdown launched in the world’s most dangerous capital two months ago, and was swiftly condemned in Washington.
The attack, a rare strike inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, came just hours after an attack on a Baghdad bridge that left 10 people dead.
“A suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt and carrying a briefcase entered the cafeteria. Security was very tight because parliament was meeting,” an Iraqi security official said.
“The flesh of the suicide bomber was scattered across the cafeteria. There was blood everywhere on the floor,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity from the scene of the attack.
A parliamentary employee who was wounded said he heard “Allahu Akhbar (God is Greater) and saw the bomber before hearing a deafening explosion.
US military Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver suggested in an interview with CNN that Al-Qaeda may have been behind the attack.
“Al-Qaeda is one of the organisations that would want to do that,” he said. Asked if he thought the most probable claim of responsibility would come from Al-Qaeda, he replied: “We will wait and see what the investigation identifies.”
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki condemned the assault as a “criminal and cowardly act” as the parliament speaker announced a special session for Friday -- the day of rest in Muslim Iraq -- to condemn “terrorism.”
US President George W. Bush, whose approval ratings have slumped because of the Iraq war, assured Maliki’s embattled coalition government: “We stand with you” following the latest attack targeting senior Iraqi officials.
“I strongly condemn the action. It reminds us, though, that there is an enemy willing to bomb innocent people and a symbol of democracy,” he said.
One dead MP was named by security as Mohammed Awad, a member of the National Dialogue Front, a Sunni Arab party with 11 seats in the 275-member parliament.
The second MP killed was identified as belonging to the Kurdistan Islamic Union, a fringe Kurdish grouping with an original line-up of five MPs, one of whom was shot dead last year.
At least five Sunni lawmakers and two from the United Iraqi Alliance, the main Shiite grouping that leads the government, were among the wounded, and Maliki ordered a swift investigation into who was responsible.
“There is a strong indication that the suicide bomber was a bodyguard of one of the lawmakers,” the senior security official said on condition of anonymity.
Iraqi police were also said to be questioning the cafeteria manager, who was new to the job after being hired last month, and kitchen staff.
Access to the Green Zone, home to the Iraqi government, the US mission and other foreign embassies, is restricted to visitors carrying picture IDs who are required to pass through at least six checkpoints and several metal detectors.
Insurgents and militias have, however, managed to fire rockets and mortar shells into the compound from outside its walls. Last month security forces found two explosive vests lying abandoned inside the zone.
Also last month, two American contractors were killed in rocket attacks, while UN chief Ban Ki-moon had a close shave when a mortar shell hit behind the heavily secured building where he was giving a news conference with Maliki.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, whose government is the closest US ally in Iraq, condemned Thursday’s blast as the product of “twisted minds.”
Although US and Iraqi officials have reported a reduction in execution-style killings since launching a huge security crackdown in Baghdad two months ago, they have admitted that car bombings remain a curse.
Earlier on Thursday, a suicide bomber blew up a truck on a major bridge across the Tigris River in Baghdad, killing 10 people and sending cars plunging from the wrecked structure into the waters below.
Another 26 people were wounded in the attack on Al-Sarafiyah Bridge, one of the oldest in the Iraqi capital, which collapsed under the force of the blast, a security official said.
Another six people were killed when their bus was struck by a roadside bomb near the northern oil hub of Kirkuk, a security official and a doctor said.