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Suspected suicide bomber blows himself up in the Iraqi parliament cafeteria, 8 killed

A suspected suicide bomber blew himself up in the Iraqi parliament cafeteria , killing at least eight people including three lawmakers.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told The Associated Press that eight people were killed in the attack. Iraqi officials said the bomber struck the cafeteria while several lawmakers were eating lunch, killing three of them. State television said at least 30 people were wounded.

Security officials at parliament, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information, said they believed the suicide bomber was a bodyguard of a Sunni member of parliament who was not among the dead. They would not name the member of parliament.

The officials also said two satchel bombs were found inside the building near the dining hall. A U.S. military bomb squad was called and took the explosives away and detonated them without incident.

The blast came hours after a suicide truck bomb exploded on a major bridge in Baghdad, collapsing the steel structure and sending cars tumbling into the Tigris River, police and witnesses said. At least 10 people were killed.

After the parliament blast, security guards sealed the building and no one including lawmakers was allowed to enter or leave.

Caldwell said witness accounts indicated a suicide attack.

"We don't know at this point who it was. We do know in the past that suicide vests have been used predominantly by al-Qaida," he said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said no Americans were hurt in the blast.

The bombing came amid the two-month-old security crackdown in Baghdad, which has sought to restore stability in the capital so that the government of Iraq can take key political steps by June 30 or face a possible withdrawal of American support.

One of the dead lawmakers was Mohammed Awad, a member of the Sunni National Dialogue Front, said Saleh al-Mutlaq, the leader of the party, which holds 11 seats in Iraq's legislature. A female Sunni lawmaker from the same list was wounded, he said.

Another legislator killed was Taha al-Liheibi, of the Sunni Accordance Front that holds 44 seats in parliament, according to Mohammed Abu Bakr, who heads the legislature's media department.

The third dead lawmaker was Niamah al-Mayahi, a member of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance bloc, said Saleh al-Aujaili, a fellow member.

Abu Bakr said he saw a suicide bomber's body amid a ghastly scene at the restaurant.

"I saw two legs in the middle of the cafeteria and none of those killed or wounded lost their legs  which means they must be the legs of the suicide attacker," he said.

Several other lawmakers said they too saw the disembodied legs, believed to be those of the bomber.

Earlier in the day, security officials used dogs to check people entering the building in a rare precaution apparently concerned that an attack might take place.

But a security scanner that checks pedestrians at the entrance to the Green Zone near the parliament building was not working on Thursday, Abu Bakr said. People were searched only by hand and had to pass through metal detectors, he said.

The brazen bombing was the clearest evidence yet that militants can penetrate even the most secure locations. Masses of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers are on the streets in the ninth week of a security crackdown in the capital and security measures inside the Green Zone have been significantly hardened.

The U.S. military reported April 1 that two suicide vests were found in the heavily fortified region that also houses the U.S. Embassy and offices of the Iraqi government. A militant rocket attack last month killed two Americans, a soldier and a contractor. A few days earlier, a rocket landed within 100 yards of a building where U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was holding a news conference. No one was hurt.

Khalaf al-Ilyan, one of the three leaders of the Iraqi Accordance Front, which holds 44 seats, said the attack was "aimed at everyone all parties our parliament in general being a symbol and a representative of all segments of Iraqi society."

Al-Ilyan, who is in Jordan recovering from knee surgery, said the blast also "underlines the failure of the government's security plan."

"The plan is 100 percent a failure. It's a complete flop. The explosion means that instability and lack of security has reached the Green Zone, which the government boasts is heavily fortified," he said.

In Washington, the White House condemned the bombing.

"This attack demonstrates that the terrorists and extremists will go to great lengths to undermine the Iraqi government, a government that is working to bring peace and stability for the people of Iraq, as opposed to the death and destruction that the terrorists offer," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council. "The United States and Iraq cannot and will not let them succeed."

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Republican presidential candidate John McCain said the attack showed terrorists were determined to destroy the Iraqi people's dreams of democracy but did not mean the security operation had failed.

"We know that there is a security problem in Baghdad," Rice told reporters at the State Department where she met with McCain. "This is still early in the process and I don't think anyone expected that there wouldn't be counter-efforts by terrorists to undermine the security presence."

McCain said the bombing could not take away from initial, small successes from the surge.

"It makes all of us sad for these public servants who have been injured or killed but I don't think you can change the larger picture (that) we are achieving some small successes," he said.

Mukhlis al-Zamili of the Shiite Fadhila party said six of those wounded were members of the bloc run by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Hadi al-Amiri, head of the parliament's security and defense committee, said the explosion shook the building just after legislators ended their main meeting, and broke into smaller committees.

"A few brothers (fellow lawmakers) happened to be in the cafeteria at the time of the explosion," al-Amiri told Al-Arabiya television. "But had they been able to place this bomb inside the meeting hall, it would have been a catastrophe."

A television camera and videotape belonging to a Western TV crew was confiscated by security guards moments after the attack.

Attacks in the Green Zone are rare.

The worst inside the enclave occurred Oct. 14, 2004, when insurgents detonated explosives at a market and a popular cafe, killing six people. That was the first bombing in the sprawling region.

On Nov. 25, 2004, a mortar attack inside the zone killed four employees of a British security firm and wounded at least 12.

On Jan. 29, 2005, insurgents hit the U.S. Embassy compound with a rocket, killing two Americans a civilian and a Navy sailor on the eve of landmark elections. Four other Americans were wounded.

In addition to killing 10 people, Thursday's bombing of the al-Sarafiya bridge wounded 26, hospital officials said. As many as 20 other people were feared missing in cars that plummeted off the span.

Waves lapped against twisted girders as patrol boats searched for survivors and U.S. helicopters flew overhead. Scuba divers donned flippers and waded in from the riverbanks.

Farhan al-Sudani, a 34-year-old Shiite businessman who lives near the bridge, said the blast woke him at dawn.

"A huge explosion shook our house and I thought it would demolish our house. Me and my wife jumped immediately from our bed, grabbed our three kids and took them outside," he said.

The al-Sarafiya bridge connected two northern Baghdad neighborhoods Waziriyah, a mostly Sunni enclave, and Utafiyah, a Shiite area.

Police blamed the attack on a suicide truck bomber, but AP Television News video showed the bridge broken in two places perhaps the result of two blasts.

Cement pilings that support the steel structure were left crumbling. At the base of one lay a charred vehicle engine, believed to be that of the truck bomb.

"We were astonished more when we saw the extent of damage," said Ahmed Abdul-Karim, 45, who also lives near the bridge. "I was standing in my garden and I saw the smoke and flying debris."

The al-Sarafiya bridge is believed to be at least 75 years old, built by the British in the early part of the 20th century.

The al-Sarafiya bridge has a duplicate in Fallujah that was built later and made infamous in March 2004 when angry mobs hung the charred bodies of U.S. contractors from its girders.

Before the al-Sarafiya bridge was destroyed, nine spans across the Tigris linked western and eastern Baghdad.

The river now serves as a de facto dividing line between the mostly Shiite east and the largely Sunni west of the city, a reality of more than a year of sectarian fighting that has forced Sunnis to flee neighborhoods where they were a minority and likewise for Shiites.

There have been unconfirmed reports for months that Sunni insurgents and al-Qaida in Iraq were planning a campaign to blow up the city's bridges. U.S. military headquarters near the Baghdad airport and the Green Zone, site of the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi parliament and government, are both on the west side of the river.

Also Thursday, the U.S. military said its troops killed two suspected insurgents and captured 17 in raids across the country.

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