BAGHDAD A suicide car bomber killed seven Iraqis and wounded 11 others, including a member of parliament, close to an entrance to Baghdad's fortified Green Zone on Monday, where several Western embassies are located, police sources said.
The attack was close to the July 14th suspension bridge which leads into the central area, known officially as the International Zone, which houses diplomatic missions including the U.S. embassy.
"I was on my way to enter the Green Zone when the blast happened. I was wounded in my shoulder and I'm in hospital now," Habib al-Turfi, a Shi'ite member of parliament, told Reuters by telephone.
Two of the seven killed were soldiers, the sources said.
"Cars were lining up waiting to be searched at the checkpoint that leads to the Green Zone and suddenly a speeding car exploded nearby," said one police source whose patrol was stationed near the scene of the attack.
"Some people died inside cars and I saw two soldiers lying on the ground. We immediately closed the area," said the source, who declined to be named.
The last major attacks in the capital occurred on September 9, when a series of bombs in mainly Shi'ite Baghdad districts ended one of the bloodiest days of the year with more than 100 killed across the country.
"It's a suicide attack with clear fingerprints of al Qaeda terrorist groups," a security official said on condition of anonymity.
In August about 164 Iraqis were killed, government figures showed, as security forces clashed with insurgent groups and sectarian violence which has plagued Iraq for almost a decade.
Infighting in Iraq's delicately balanced cross-sectarian government, and an al Qaeda resurgence, have intensified fears of a return to widespread violence, especially as Iraq struggles to contain spillover from the growing conflict in Syria.
Iraq's fugitive vice president Tareq al-Hashemi, sentenced to death this month by an Iraqi court, told Reuters that Shi'ite Iran is using Iraqi airspace to fly arms to Syria.
Many Sunnis in Iraq are disgruntled with what they see as Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's determination to minimize their share in power.
Heightened political tension is often accompanied by a surge in violence as Sunni Islamist insurgents try to capitalize on instability to strike at the government, local security forces and Shi'ite religious targets.
Violence in Iraq has eased since the dark days of sectarian slaughter that erupted a few years after the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam. But insurgents are still carrying out at least one major coordinated attack a month.
QAEDA STILL ACTIVE
Iraqi security officials said that despite stepping up security measures inside and around Baghdad, militants linked to al Qaeda are still launching bold attacks.
"We regrettably admit al Qaeda terrorists are still operating actively. They still receive huge funds and they keep changing their tactics," said a senior interior ministry official on condition of anonymity.
Iraq's al Qaeda wing, the Islamic State of Iraq, has claimed recent attacks on Shi'ite targets, as it tries to fuel sectarian tensions and undermine Maliki's government.
Despite being weakened after years of war with Iraqi and U.S. troops, the group and other Sunni insurgents remain capable of carrying out lethal attacks targeting security forces and Shi'ite targets.
"This attack is seen as a political challenge to the state authority and its reputation. It's an important Green Zone gate which the prime minister, top officials and lawmakers use," Ali Al-Haidari, an Iraqi security expert, told Reuters.
Attacks on Shi'ite targets are reviving fears that Iraq will slip back into the broad sectarian slaughter of its recent past, especially as the Shi'ite, Sunni and ethnic Kurdish parties that make up its fragile government feud over sharing power.
"The reason why al Qaeda is still active, despite the killings and the detentions of its elements, is because its cells are renewable, and the financing and support, from inside and outside, is still going on," Haidari said.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Raheem Salman; Writing Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Louise Ireland)