Bomb targets top Iraqi official

Attempt to murder vice president was apparently inside plot

February 27, 2007|By Christian Berthelsen | Christian Berthelsen,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- In an assassination attempt apparently plotted from inside the government, a bomb planted at an Iraqi ministry where one of the nation's vice presidents was making an official appearance yesterday killed five people and injured dozens, prompting questions about Iraq's ability to ensure its own security.

The bombing targeted Adel Abdul-Mahdi, one of two Iraqi vice presidents and a top leader in the largest Shiite voting bloc in parliament. It was detonated as he attended a morning ceremony honoring employees of the Ministry of Labor and Municipalities. Qassim Mosawi, a spokesman for the Iraqi military enforcing the new security plan, acknowledged that the attack had been planned and carried out from within the government, but defended the security precautions taken in advance of Abdul-Mahdi's visit.

"We are not expecting terrorists to stand by and watch the plan succeed," he said. "We are expecting them to increase their violence. But with time, we are going to eliminate such terrorist acts for good."

The ministry bombing provided further evidence that the U.S.-led occupation and the fledgling Iraqi government face determined enemies who continue to adapt their tactics in the face of a new security crackdown - now in its third week - that is intended to halt sectarian violence.

It served as a reminder of how far U.S. and Iraqi officials have to go to establish security here, in the halls of government and in the lawless and bloody streets of the capital.

"This situation proves there is a deep and profound break in the security system," said Wamid Nadhmi, a political science professor at Baghdad University. Along with other violent incidents in recent days, he said, "it gives the impression that American and local forces are going nowhere."

The incident took place on a day when insurgents appeared to have focused their strikes on government and police - rather than civilian - targets such as marketplaces, universities and mosques. A suicide car bomber killed 13 people and wounded 10 at a police checkpoint in Ramadi, a hotbed of Sunni insurgency about 60 miles west of Baghdad. A roadside bomb killed three Iraqi police officers and injured four others as their convoy passed through east Baghdad, and gunmen attacked a fire and rescue station in west Baghdad, killing three police officers.

A suicide bomber detonated a car bomb at a military checkpoint near the northern city of Kirkuk, killing one civilian. In the south, British forces said 15 gunmen attacked a military patrol in Basra on Sunday night. Three attackers were wounded, but the British did not say whether any soldiers were harmed.

In the weeks since the security plan was announced, the number of bodies recovered daily by police - usually victims of Shiite death squads - has fallen somewhat, as Muqtada al-Sadr, a radical cleric who leads the largest Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, has agreed to cooperate with the security plan.

But attacks on Shiite citizens and authorities, attributed to Sunnis and insurgents, have continued, raising questions about how long Shiites' patience will last before they take up arms again. Al-Sadr issued a statement Sunday saying that the plan appeared futile and calling for U.S. forces to leave the country.

Today's ministry bomb went off inside the hall where the ceremony was taking place, in an affluent area of west Baghdad dominated by Sunnis. Labor and Municipalities Minister Riyadh Gharib had completed a speech and returned to his seat next to Abdul-Mahdi on the stage.

Witnesses said the bomb appeared to have been planted two to three yards from the stage and was packed with ball bearings. Thick smoke filled the room and the ceiling caved in.

Abdul-Mahdi, a popular leader who plays a largely ceremonial role in the government, was not seriously injured, but two ministry department heads were killed. Abdul-Mahdi and Gharib were taken for treatment to Ibn Sina hospital in the Green Zone, which is staffed with U.S. military medical personnel.

Lt. Col. Christopher Garver of the U.S.-led coalition said the incident was "unfortunate" and that Abdul-Mahdi had been treated and released.

Christian Berthelsen writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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