Blast rocks Iraq parliament, dozens wounded

Dean Yates
Reuters

Thursday April 12, 2007

An explosion rocked the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad on Thursday and dozens of people were wounded, a Reuters witness said.

He said the blast appeared to take place inside a restaurant inside the building at a time when many members of parliament were having lunch. Parliament was in session on Thursday.

The parliament building is located in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. Militants have rarely managed to penetrate the various checkpoints and carry out attacks.

Recently, the U.S. military said two suicide vests had been found inside the zone, a sprawling area that comprises many government buildings and the U.S. embassy.

Earlier, a truck bomb killed at least seven people on a key bridge in northern Baghdad, destroying most of the steel structure and sending several cars plunging into the River Tigris below, police said.

Two main sections of the Sarafiya bridge, a main artery linking east and west Baghdad, collapsed into the river. One army officer on the scene said explosive charges might have also been used to bring down a bridge that local residents said was built by the British in the early 1900s.

Among the dead were four policemen who drowned after their car toppled into the river's muddy waters, police said.

U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a security crackdown in the capital two months ago that has reduced death squad killings, but car and truck bombs still kill and wound scores.

The destruction of the bridge will cause major disruption in northern Baghdad. Two other bridges across the Tigris in that part of the capital are shut for security reasons while another is regarded by many residents as too dangerous to use.

"There is a conspiracy to isolate the two halves of Baghdad," parliament Speaker Mahmoud Mashhadani, an outspoken Sunni politician, told lawmakers.

A dozen bridges cross the Tigris in Baghdad, linking the east and west of the city.

SECTARIAN VIOLENCE

Since the bombing of a revered Shi'ite shrine in the town of Samarra in February 2006, a wave of sectarian violence has reshaped the fabric of this once mixed city. Sunnis mainly live on the west side of the river and Shi'ites on the east.

Police said seven people had been killed in the bridge blast. They said up to 22 people were wounded. At least five cars had fallen into the river, including the police vehicle.

The Baghdad security operation is regarded as a last-ditch attempt to halt Iraq's slide into civil war between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs who were dominant under Saddam Hussein.

U.S. President George W. Bush is sending 30,000 more troops to Iraq, mainly to help with the Baghdad offensive.

Around 100,000 American and Iraqi forces are already in the capital for the push and all reinforcements should arrive by the end of May.

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