BAGHDAD — An explosion Monday in Baghdad's Green Zone that Iraqi officials at first attributed to a rocket that landed harmlessly in a parking lot was in fact a suicide car bomb that detonated at the entrance to the parliament building and killed five people, officials revealed Tuesday.
The admission that a suicide car bomber had penetrated the fortified Green Zone, the first suicide attack there since April 2007, sent a wave of concern across the capital about the abilities, and loyalties, of Iraq's security agencies.
The attack targeted the speaker of parliament, Osama al Nujaifi, according to Nujaifi's spokesman. The speaker was uninjured.
Entry into the Green Zone, where Iraqi government offices and the U.S. Embassy are, is strictly controlled. Vehicles that enter the area are subjected to thorough searches that include a review by dogs trained to discover explosives.
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Only people who are carrying high-security badges that are either green or blue can avoid the search. Passengers without such clearances must present other identification and are required to leave the vehicle while it's being searched.
The explosion, which went off at 4:32 p.m., could be heard and felt at McClatchy's offices several miles away.
"If security inside the Green Zone can be compromised in such a way, then what about security in general?" said a high-ranking parliament official, who asked not to be identified because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue publicly. "This is not an ordinary breach. This is a scandal."
Worry about security has been growing in Baghdad as the deadline nears for the complete withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Fewer than 20,000 Americans remain in the country and all are expected to be out before Dec. 31.
As the drawdown has continued, violence has risen steadily. More than 100 people have been killed in violence in Baghdad so far in November; the number for October was 65.
Ministry of Interior officials, whose forces are responsible for protecting the Green Zone, offered no explanation for how an explosives-laden vehicle made it past security checkpoints. On Monday, and throughout much of Tuesday, ministry officials said the explosion had been a rocket. They didn't respond to requests for comment after the true nature of the explosion became public.
"The security authorities cannot admit it was a suicide bomber because they would lose face," the high-ranking parliament official said.
Details of the attack were made public by Aiden Hilmi, Speaker Nujaifi's media adviser, who disclosed what had taken place after a growing number of news reports cited unnamed people who'd witnessed the events before the explosion.
Hilmi said the suicide bomber was driving a black GMC SUV, the same color and make used by Nujaifi's motorcade. Hilmi said the bomber attempted to join the motorcade inside the parliament grounds, but that guards stopped him and demanded identification badges. He backed up, changed direction and hit a curb. That's when the car exploded.
A source from the Iraqi police, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he isn't authorized to talk to journalists, said the explosion had killed or wounded five people. Among the wounded was parliament member Muayyad al Tayib, a spokesman for the Kurdish coalition in parliament.
The last suicide bombing in the Green Zone also targeted parliament. On that occasion, a man wearing an explosive belt detonated himself in the cafeteria reserved for parliament members and their staffs. Three members of parliament and five other people were killed and 20 people were wounded.
(Issa is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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