An apparent suicide bomber has killed at least eight people in a cafeteria inside the building where the Parliament meets in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. At least 20 other people were injured in the blast. President Bush strongly condemned the attack and told reporters in Washington that the United States will continue to stand with the Iraqi government.
The explosion happened Thursday afternoon after parliament had finished its morning session. Some lawmakers were eating lunch or having tea in the cafeteria of the convention center, where the assembly meets, when the blast occurred.
The cause of the explosion is under investigation, but the U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Major General William Caldwell said there are indications it was the result of a suicide attack.
"What we know right now is that inside the parliamentary building on the second floor in the cafeteria, sometime this afternoon, about 2:30, it appears now from the eyewitness accounts there was a suicide vest."
Officials from the Sunni National Dialogue Party confirmed that one of their legislators, Mohammad Awad, was among the dead. Identities of the other victims were not immediately known.
General Caldwell said suicide vests are an al-Qaida hallmark.
"We don't at this point have any indications who it is, but clearly, we're looking at it closely. We do know in the past that suicide vests have been used predominantly by al-Qaida and obviously we'll go to great detail to look at this one."
In Washington, President Bush strongly condemned the attack.
"My message to the Iraqi government is `We stand with you as you take the steps necessary to not only reconcile politically, but also put a security force in place that is able to deal with these kinds of people."'
The parliament meets inside Baghdad's convention center in the heavily guarded Green Zone, which also houses the U.S. and British embassies and the offices of top Iraqi leaders. Long much safer than the rest of the capital, the Green Zone has recently become the target of intensified attacks.
In recent weeks, near daily mortar attacks have increased, with one assault killing two people. Last week officials found four suicide vests inside the Green Zone. In November, a car bomb exploded near the convention center and only a few weeks ago, a mortar struck just outside the building during a news conference Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon were holding.
The Green Zone is heavily guarded, but there are apartment buildings housing Iraqis inside the area and every day hundreds come in to work. Ordinary Iraqis are allowed to enter the Green Zone if they present adequate identification. Strict security checks are also in place.
Earlier Thursday, a bomb exploded on Baghdad's Sarafiya Bridge, which links the northern Baghdad neighborhoods of al-Attafiya and al-Waziriya. Officials say several people were killed and injured.
A police official told Iraqi television that witnesses said a truck stopped on the bridge, exploded, and half of the bridge collapsed, throwing several cars into the river. He said rescuers were searching the Tigris for survivors.