A suicide bomber penetrated security around the highest-ranking Sunni in Iraq's Shiite-dominated government, seriously wounding him and killing at least nine others during Friday prayers, an assassination attempt that further eroded the image of improving security in Baghdad.
Deputy Prime Minsiter Salam Al-Zubaie underwent surgery to remove shrapnel from his abdomen at an American hospital. Afterward, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited his deputy, one of two, and said he was in serious but stable condition and would not need treatment abroad "for now."
Sources tell CBS News the suicide bomber may have been one of his own guards, and that is how he managed to get that far into the fortified compound with the suicide vest, reports correspondent Allen Pizzey. And Iraqi state television quoted Brig. Qassim al-Moussawi, a military spokesman, as saying the the attack was an inside job by an al Qaeda fighter who had infiltrated al-Zubaie's security detachment. He offered no details and repeated calls to his office to verify the claim went unanswered. The Interior Ministry, which runs Iraqi police, said it had no information on that claim.
The attacker struck al-Zubaie a day after an internet statement purportedly by an al Qaeda umbrella group singled him out as a stooge "to the crusader occupiers."
Hours after the assassination attempt the same group, The Islamic State in Iraq, claimed responsibility and said it "brings the Islamic nation ... good news that our troops were able, with God's will, to target" al-Zubaie.
"We tell the traitors of al-Maliki's infidel government, wait for what will destroy you, you will never be safe, with God's will on the Iraqi soil, as long as we have a blinking eye and a beating heart," the Internet statement said. It could not be independently verified.
Ball-bearings packed in the suicide bomber's explosives vest remained lodged in al-Zubaie's chest, but surgeons decided against trying to remove them now, said Dhafer al-Ani, a Sunni lawmaker.
The attack on al-Zubaie, the day after a Katyusha rocket slammed into to earth 50 feet from visiting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, starkly emphasized the continuing chaos in Iraq even after the introduction of thousands more American soldiers and six weeks of a massive security crackdown in the capital.
Al-Ani said the bomber blew himself up inside the mosque during the traditional weekly prayer service. The room was devastated, with debris and pools of blood covering the floor and light fixtures dangling from the ceiling. The walls were pockmarked from shrapnel.
A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, said al-Zubaie was in a hospital run by the U.S. in the Green Zone but would not comment on his condition.
Nine people were killed in the attack, including an adviser to the deputy prime minister, and 14 were wounded, including five of al-Zubaie's bodyguards. The adviser, Mufeed Abdul-Zahra, was wounded and died later at the hospital.
"Everything around here is controlled by armed guards. They're not that good, some of them, and the speculation is that it may well have been an inside job," says Pizzey.
In other developments:
State-run Iraqiya television, citing a "special source," reported that the attacker was one of al-Zubaie's bodyguards but that could not be confirmed.
The mosque was built inside the courtyard of al-Zubaie's compound in a residential area behind the Foreign Ministry near the Green Zone, which houses the U.S. and British embassies and the Iraqi government headquarters.
Baghdad authorities have imposed a weekly four-hour vehicle ban from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Fridays to protect the services from suicide car bombers.
Friday's bombing came a day after a rocket exploded 50 yards from the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during a news conference in the Green Zone, causing him to cringe and duck just minutes after Iraq's prime minister said the visit showed the city was "on the road to stability."
Ban's unannounced stop in the Iraqi capital Thursday was the first visit by a U.N. secretary-general since Kofi Annan, his predecessor, came to Baghdad in November 2005. The U.N. Security Council issued a statement strongly condemning the rocket firing as an "abhorrent terrorist attack."
The two high-profile attacks in as many days dealt a major blow to a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown in Baghdad even as the House of Representatives voted Friday to order President Bush to bring combat troops home from Iraq next year, a victory for Democrats and Congress' boldest challenge yet to the administration's policy.
The measure, however, is unlikely to sail unchanged through the Senate, and Bush has promised to veto the bill if it ever makes its way to his desk.
White House press secretary Tony Snow denounced Friday's suicide bombing.
"It demonstrates that there are some terrorists who are going to do whatever they can to disrupt things," Snow said.
A bomb in a used car lot also exploded in a predominantly Shiite area of Habibiyah, killing four and wounding 19 in eastern Baghdad, on the edge of the militia stronghold of Sadr City.
An al Qaeda umbrella group in Iraq purportedly denied Friday that chlorine was used in recent bombings in Anbar province but warned it would target all tribes and politicians supporting U.S. efforts in Iraq. It cited by name al-Zubaie, Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and the Anbar Salvation Council, an alliance of clans in the province backing the government.
The United States has sent about 30,000 additional troops to support the efforts to pacify the capital, as well as Anbar.
In its statement before the attack, the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq said its duty was to "purify these tribes from those outlaws" who support the U.S.-backed government. But it denied using "poisonous gas" against civilians.
"There are some people who choose to be helpers to the crusader occupiers and their stooges, those who try to save the crusaders and they were the last card used by the U.S. army in its war against the true mujahedeen (holy fighters)," the group said in an Internet statement.
After the bombing, another statement purported from the group was posted on the Web saying it could the "good news that our troops were able, with God's will, to target" al-Zubaie.
Like most of the Sunni Arab politicians who agreed to join al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government, al-Zubaie is routinely denounced by Sunni insurgents as a traitor. A statement posted on the Internet by the Islamic State of Iraq, an al Qaeda-linked group, described al-Zubaie and al-Hashemi as members of the "defeat front."
Al-Zubaie is al-Maliki's deputy for security, while the other deputy prime minister, Barham Saleh, a Kurd, holds the economics portfolio.
The Sunni leader repeatedly has complained that he was being sidelined by the prime minister and his top aides. He recently told an interviewer that his authority did not exceed that of a junior government employee.
He also publicly differed with al-Maliki over a mass kidnapping of Sunnis by purported Shiite militiamen in July, saying Shiite-dominated security forces were to blame for failing to maintain order.