A suicide bomber has killed at least eight people at a cafeteria inside the Iraqi Parliament building in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. Several other people were injured in the blast. President Bush strongly condemned the bombing and told reporters in Washington that the United States will continue to stand with the Iraqi government. From northern Iraq, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.
The explosion happened at around 3 o'clock local time, 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.
Officials from the Sunni National Dialogue Party confirmed that one of their legislators, Mohammad Awad, was killed and one of their female deputies was injured. Another deputy was also reported killed, but the victim's identity was not immediately known.
The cause of the explosion is under investigation, but speculation in Baghdad is rife that it was the work of a suicide bomber.
One Sunni legislator told Iraqi television that a bomber wearing an explosives vest carried out the attack. Mohammed al-Dayni said he saw the severed legs of the attacker. Newswires also quoted an unnamed security official as saying a suicide bomber was responsible for the blast.
Speaking to al-Jazeera television, parliament deputy Mithal al-Aloosi said the attack was aimed at everyone - Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds - as they were all gathered in the cafeteria. He also noted attacks yesterday and today on government buildings in Algeria and Morocco, saying they could be linked.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared to agree that the blast was the work of insurgents.
"While we are still trying to get the facts, I've been on the phone with [U.S. Ambassador] Ryan Crocker," she said. "It is obviously again the terrorists and those who wish to stop the Iraqi people from having a future that would be based on democracy and stability. And I noted that this is the parliament building and that in a sense is an attempt to make an attack on the institution itself."
The convention center is located inside Baghdad's 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. 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.
The steel-structured Al-Sarafiya bridge was built by the British in the 1940s and is considered a Baghdad monument.