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Attack on deputy prime minister considered inside job

AP | March 26, 2007
Steven R. Hurst and Qassim Abdul-Zahra

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 the Associated Press yesterday.

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 security shake-up throughout the government, 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 Zubaie's home. The Sunni official was seriously wounded and nine people were killed.

The senior security official as well as a key aide to 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 Saadi's car, which was parked outside the Zubaie compound, exploded within minutes of the suicide attack.

The Zubaie aide said 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 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-Askeri, a top aide to Maliki, said Saadi had been arrested in the past on suspicion of insurgent activities but that 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 Zubaie's aide confirmed those details.

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

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

Askeri and the security official said those attacks had prompted Maliki to order a full investigation of all security guards.

As soon as the investigation is 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 US Embassy and most Iraqi government offices and Parliament.

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