Attack against deputy PM seen as inside job

Monday, March 26, 2007
* Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie, speaks to the media at the Ministry of Defense in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq Thursday, May 25, 2006. Iraq's Sunni deputy prime minister was wounded Friday March 23, 2007 in a suicide bombing near the heavily fortified Green Zone. The bomber blew himself up as Salam al-Zubaie, one of two deputies to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and other worshippers were leaving a mosque adjacent to his house and office, police said, adding that at least two worshippers were killed and 10 wounded. (AP Photo/Samir Mizban)

BAGHDAD -- The suicide attack against Iraq's Sunni deputy prime minister is now seen as an inside job carried out by a member of his own security detail -- a distant relative who had been arrested as an insurgent, freed at the official's request, then hired as a bodyguard, a senior security official and an aide to the victim told said Sunday.

The assassination attempt, at least the third major security breach involving a top politician in four months, prompted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to order a governmentwide security shakeup, including plans to hire a foreign company to guard the Green Zone building where parliament meets, the security official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with reporters.

A suicide attacker came within feet of Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie and exploded his vest during a Friday prayer service in the private mosque attached to al-Zubaie home. The Sunni official was seriously wounded and nine people were killed.

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.

They said al-Saadi's car, which was parked outside the al-Zubaie compound, exploded within minutes of the suicide attack.

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.

A cook for al-Zubaie who has since disappeared is also under suspicion. He was in the kitchen that was only about 30 feet from the prayer room when the attack occurred.

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.

Other government security officials theorized that al-Saadi enlisted the cook's help to let a second person into the compound to carry out the bombing. They believed al-Saadi was the suicide attacker, although they conceded he could just be on the run.

The attack on al-Zubaie, who is now said to be out of danger after surgery in the U.S.-run military hospital in the Green Zone, was the third major security breakdown involving key members of the government or parliament since Nov. 21.

Al-Askeri and the security official said those attacks had prompted al-Maliki to order a full investigation of all security guards. Once complete, all those protecting Iraqi officials or lawmakers will be issued new badges by the government.

Security IDs currently are issued by the American military. Those passes allow access to secure locations, especially in the heavily guarded Green Zone -- site of the U.S. Embassy and most Iraqi government offices and parliament.

In the Nov. 21 incident, a bomb exploded in the motorcade of Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, also a Sunni, as it drove into the parking lot at the Green Zone Convention Center where the legislature meets.

Al-Mashhadani was not in the convoy when the bomb, placed in the trunk of his car, exploded. A second bomb was found under another car in the convoy and was detonated by an American military bomb squad.

On Feb. 26, Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi narrowly escaped assassination when a blast ripped through a government meeting hall just hours after it was searched by U.S. teams with bomb-sniffing dogs. At least 10 people were killed.

Abdul-Mahdi was slightly wounded in the explosion, which splintered chairs and destroyed a speakers' podium. It went off moments after the minister for public works finished a speech in the third-floor chamber. Abdul-Mahdi had made a welcoming address a few minutes earlier, raising speculation the bomb could have been on a timer-trigger that missed the vice president by sheer luck.

Al-Askeri said not even the Green Zone was safe these days because personal security details, like the one working for al-Zubaie and other officials, are not under government control.

"Every government official and lawmaker choses his own security detail. I'm one of them, I chose my own security detail," he said.

The al-Maliki aide said that two members of al-Mashhadani's security detail, both in possession of their U.S.-issued security IDs, had been caught last summer planting a roadside bomb south of Baghdad.

The top security official said negotiations had been successfully concluded to hire a foreign company to take over security at the entrance to and inside the Convention Center, where parliament meets. The official would not name the security company or say what the cost would be because a contract had not been signed.

A second security official said the plan was to sign a six-month contract to allow the Iraqis time to establish their own force of trained bodyguards.

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