Good but grim reading on a Friday morning. He was interviewing an MP a few yards away from the bomber when the bomb went off and somehow got away with nothing more than a pierced eardrum. Most interesting to me is the paranoia he describes among the MPs when they were herded out into the parking lot, where they would have been easy pickings for a car bomb or another jihadi saboteur within the crowd. I felt the same way on 9/11 walking over the bridge in Manhattan and wondering whether it had been rigged beforehand as a secondary attack.
Richard Miniter was nearby and raced to the scene, where the rumor were already flying:
The witnesses I was able to talk to through the chain-link fence of the holding pen said that the bomber seemed to linger at the edge of second-floor cafeteria until a seat at the center table opened up. Then he calmly walked to that table and sat down. The explosion followed in seconds.
The U.S. Embassy translator, an Iraqi with a trim mustache and a baseball cap, confirmed that the bomber selected the center table in order to maximize casualties.
Speculation among the penned-up witnesses ran wild. Some thought that the bomber had decided to target Mohammed Awad, a lawmaker from the National Dialogue Party, a predominantly Sunni party.
As you might imagine from the name, the National Dialogue Party is moderate, so this may have been a message from AQ to less recalcitrant Sunnis. Three cafeteria workers are being interrogated this morning but early suspicion has focused on the bodyguard of another Sunni MP who hasn’t been named. An Iraqi paper hears from a security source that the bomber might have been arrested in the past and then released at the urging of some power-that-be. If so, it’s an eerie parallel to what happened to Sunni deputy PM Salam al-Zubaie a few weeks ago when he was attacked by his own bodyguard-turned-bomber in a mosque:
The senior security official as well as a key aide to al-Zubaie said Wahab al-Saadi, the distant relative accused of involvement in the attack, was the only person at the prayer service who has not been accounted for…
The al-Zubaie aide said al-Saadi had recently been removed from the bodyguard detail as a “troublemaker” but was still on the deputy prime minister’s payroll and for that reason and because he was a relative was not searched when he entered the mosque…
Sami al-Askari, a top aide to al-Maliki, said al-Saadi had been arrested in the past on suspicion of insurgent activities but that al-Zubaie successfully lobbied for his release and then made him a part of his security detail, most likely because of their family relationship. The security official and al-Zubaie’s aide confirmed those details.
Needless to say, this isn’t an isolated incident. In fact, Zeyad’s got a round-up at Iraqslogger that begins by noting “several bodyguards of parliament members and government officials are routinely detained on different charges and then later released after intervention by officials acting on their weight in the government.” Among the rumors he says are circulating right now: the possible presence of an IED and/or knapsack bombs discovered outside the parliament building and an odd coincidence in cell-phone transmission being interrupted shortly before the bomb went off. It’ll be very interesting, and potentially very discouraging, to see how far this conspiracy goes.