BAGHDAD, (AFP) – Three explosions rocked Baghdad on Monday, killing 19 people two days before parliament was to vote on a divisive military pact that would have all US troops leave the country by the end of 2011.
One of the blasts was caused by a female suicide bomber who detonated her explosives vest at the entrance to Baghdad’s heavily guarded Green Zone, brutally underscoring the lingering violence in the Iraqi capital.
In the first attack 13 people were killed — nine of them women — when a roadside bomb exploded near a bus carrying trade ministry employees during the morning commute in east Baghdad, a medical official at a nearby hospital said.
The medic said most of the victims were incinerated inside the bus, and that five other people were wounded in the attack.
Less than an hour later five people were killed when the suicide bomber blew herself up in a corridor leading into the Green Zone, where Iraqi employees were queuing to pass through security checkpoints, police said.
Another 17 people were wounded in the rush-hour attack, which echoed across central Baghdad and sent a pillar of black smoke into the air.
In another attack in east Baghdad a roadside bomb killed one person and wounded five others, police said, adding that three of the wounded were patrolling police who appeared to have been the intended target.
The Green Zone blast splashed blood and seared flesh across the grey concrete barriers at the entrance, according to an AFP correspondent.
US and Iraqi forces closed the entrance and ordered bystanders to leave the area, forcing employees to wait hundreds of metres (yards) away.
An official from the Iraqi intelligence services said the blast targeted the entrance to a corridor of checkpoints leading to their headquarters.
“Two women employees of the intelligence services were killed and six guards were wounded in the attack this morning. This attack targeted our checkpoint,” he said, adding that one of the women was pregnant.
The employees had begun queuing in the early morning outside the row of separate entrances, and some would have had to wait hours to pass through the layers of metal detectors, X-ray machines and body searches.
The Green Zone houses Iraq’s parliament and several government offices and foreign embassies. It was last attacked on October 7, when two powerful blasts went off just outside the area, wounding an Iraqi soldier and six civilians.
Iraq has seen significant improvements in security over the past year as US and Iraqi forces have allied with local tribal militias to drive insurgents out of large swathes of the country that used to be engulfed in violence.
But bombings targeting security forces are still common in the capital and other restive areas of the country.
The latest attacks came as Iraq’s parliament was mulling a controversial security pact that would have US forces withdraw from all Iraqi cities by the end of June 2009 and from the country as a whole by the end of 2011.
Iraq’s cabinet approved the pact — the product of nearly a year of intensive negotiations — more than a week ago, but the accord has drawn fire from hardline nationalists who have demanded that US troops leave sooner.
The Iraq government in recent days has urged parliament to approve the agreement, which would govern the more than 150,000 US troops deployed in over 400 bases across Iraq when their current UN mandate expires on December 31.
Parliament is expected to vote on the pact on Wednesday.