Baghdad blast ‘targeted Iraq prime minister’

Military says Monday’s attack in the Green Zone might have been bid to kill Nouri al-Maliki or another top politician.

Green Zone blast
A series of recent attacks have raised security concerns as US troops prepare to leave Iraq [File: Reuters]

A suicide bombing in the Iraqi capital’s Green Zone earlier this week may have been an attempt to kill Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or some other senior political leader, officials say.

Two parliamentary guards were killed in Monday’s blast, which officials initially said was caused by a mortar round. Two other people, including the parliamentary speaker, were injured.  

Major-General Qassim al-Moussawi, the Baghdad military spokesperson said on Friday that new intelligence pointed to an assassination attempt but that the investigation was still ongoing.

Aidan Helmi, a media adviser to Osama al-Nujaifi, the parliament speaker who was wounded in the blast, called the attack a botched “assassination attempt” on Nujaifi.

Moussawi said the bomber was driving a black, four-wheel drive vehicle carrying 20kg of explosives and tried to join a convoy of other vehicles going into the parliament grounds in the heavily protected district housing government offices and embassies.

“Intelligence shows the suicide bomber aimed to enter the building of the parliament and to stay in one of the parking
lots until the prime minister … arrived at the parliament,” he said.

He said guards prevented the driver from passing a checkpoint leading into the parliament compound because he did not have proper authorisation.

The driver then drove to the parking lot just opposite the parliament entrance where many legislators and their staff park, and the vehicle exploded seconds later.

Ali Al Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that the bombing was an attack on the whole political process.

It was not immediately possible to confirm the intent of the bomber, he said.

“It is under investigation and needs to be confirmed,” he said.

Security concerns

Moussawi said the new information was based on confessions from members of what he called a terrorist group.

They revealed that the bomb was supposed to go off when Maliki visited the parliament during an upcoming session, he said.

Iraq’s security spokesman, Qassim Atta, said the driver was supposed to bring the car inside the parliament’s parking area and leave it there for four days until Maliki attended a session, but blew himself up after he failed to bring the car inside the car park.

“Intelligence shows the suicide bomber aimed to enter the building of the parliament and to stay in one of the parking
lots until the prime minister … arrived

– Major-General Qassim al-Moussawi, Baghdad military spokesman

He said details of the alleged plot to kill the prime minister had been revealed after arrests prompted by tracing the vehicle number and a SIM card from a telephone.

That a bomb was successfully brought into what is supposed to be the most heavily fortified area in the country raises serious doubts about the abilities of Iraq’s security forces as US troops prepare to leave Iraq.

Guards check for bombs or use dogs to search for explosives as cars enter the area.

The remaining 12,000 US troops are due to leave in a few weeks, nearly nine years after the invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, the former president.

Violence has declined in Iraq since its peak in 2006 and 2007, but attacks remain common. A total of 187 people were killed in November, according to official figures released on Thursday.

Stores ransacked

Meanwhile, rioters set on alcohol stores, a massage parlour and hotels after being provoked by fiery sermons in a predominantly Kurdish city in north Iraq, police officials said on Saturday.

Pro-government crowds then attacked Islamist party offices in retaliation, they said.

Thirty people, including 20 policemen, were reported injured in the rampage, which followed Friday midday prayers in the town of Zakho, some 475km northwest of Baghdad. Zakho lies within the territory controlled by Iraq’s Kurdistan regional government.

In all 30 alcohol stores, four hotels, and a massage parlour in and around the city near the Turkish border were ransacked, set on fire or otherwise damaged, they said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Angry crowds then attacked offices belonging to a Kurdistan-based Islamist party in retaliation, officials said. Six headquarters of the Kurdistan Islamic Union in and around Zakho, and in the nearby city of Dohuk, were set on fire or otherwise assaulted, said Zakho police officer Ahmed Doski.

Islamic Union activist Salahudden Babekir blamed the attacks on his party on activists of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party, and denied that his group had any role in Friday’s violence.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies