'Post' Apocalypse: Reporter Was Only Feet Away From Iraqi Parliament Blast

By: E&P Staff The toll from the blast in the cafeteria of the Iraqi parliament building yesterday remains hazy. Various news outlets had reported that two or three Iraqi legislators had died, but this morning the Washington Post asserts that only one was killed. One thing is for certain, however: Post reporter Sudarsan Raghavan was very nearby when the bomb went off.

His first person account appears on the Post's site today, along with the transcript of an 11 a.m. online chat.

In response to one of the first questions, he replied:

"In recent weeks, mortars and rockets have hit the Green Zone and there have been a few bomb scares. Still, hardly anyone, American or Iraqi, expected a suicide bomber to enter the largest, most fortified enclave in Baghdad.

"The mood today is one of shock and despair. You hear everyday Iraqis asking questions like: How can our government protect us when it can't even protect itself? U.S. officials are concerned the attack could deepen the divide in Iraq's fractured government, and slow down steps toward political reconciliation."

His article begins as follows. The entire piece as at www.washingtonpost.com.

The bomber blew himself up no more than a few yards away. First, a brilliant flash of orange light like a starburst, then a giant popping sound. A gust of debris, flesh and blood threw me from my chair as if I were made of cardboard.

I was lying on a bed of shattered glass on the floor of the cafeteria in the Iraqi parliament building, covered with ashes and dust. Small pieces of flesh clung to my bluejeans. Blood, someone else's, speckled the left lens of my silver-rimmed glasses. Blood, mine, oozed from my left hand, punctured by a tiny shard of glass.

"Are you okay? Are you okay?" asked Saad al-Izzi, one of The Post's Iraqi correspondents, standing over me, his face framed by an eerie yellowish glow, his voice distant. I did not reply.

I had always thought about this moment. In Iraq, every journalist does. But I did not expect a bomber to take lives inside the Green Zone, the nerve center of the Iraqi government and its backer, the United States. To enter, you must pass heavily armed U.S. soldiers, Peruvian security contractors, bomb-sniffing dogs, body searches, metal detectors and several identity checks. Once you are inside, there are checkpoints sealed by concrete barriers on nearly every stretch of road. Then, more body searches, metal detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs and identity checks.

Saad and I had arrived at the parliament building at around 2 p.m. on Thursday. The cafeteria on the first floor was packed with scores of politicians, aides and others working to rebuild Iraq. There were Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, the religious and the secular, seated at glass-topped tables. Waiters served roasted chicken on beds of rice.

We met Mustafa al-Hiti, a Sunni member of parliament. He motioned for us to sit down. A few feet away, at a nearby table, sat his friend, Mohammed Awad, another politician. Hiti greeted Awad, then returned to our table.

The explosion came at the end of the 25-minute interview. Saad initially thought a mortar shell or a rocket had struck the ceiling. In recent weeks, such attacks had taken place in the Green Zone. Later, Saad described what he saw:

"There were orange flames like the exhaust of a drag racer. Pieces of black paper fell from the ceiling. Dr. Mustafa was lying next to you. He was staring at me. I knew that you were having the same problems with your ears. I was shouting at you."

Saad helped me up. The smoke was as thick as giant rain clouds. It was difficult to breathe. Our mouths and noses filled with dust. I felt like I was walking through one of Iraq's famous sandstorms. Dust covered the carpeting, too, like snow. Hundreds of shoe imprints pointed toward the exit -- and illustrated the chaos.

I thought: Are we going the right way? Could there be another bomb?


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