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Turkish President Visits Iraq as Bombings Kill 34

By Anthony Shadid and K.I. Ibrahim
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

BAGHDAD, March 23 -- Bombs tore through two of Iraq's most dangerous regions Monday, killing 34 people, in the third day of devastating attacks this month.

The bombings came on a day that Iraq's government had touted as another step in the restoration of normalcy to Baghdad. The capital buzzed with security for the arrival of Turkey's president, Abdullah Gul, the first visit by a Turkish head of state in 30 years.

U.S. officials have said attacks like Monday's reflect desperation by insurgents, and cite numbers that show violence has dropped to levels not seen since 2003. But hundreds of Iraqis still die in attacks every month, and there is anxiety that violence may escalate as the U.S. military withdraws.

Monday's deadliest attack came when a bomber blew himself up inside a crowded tent at a funeral for the brother of a Kurdish official in Jalawla, in the fertile province of Diyala, northeast of Baghdad. Interior Ministry officials said 25 people were killed and 45 wounded, many of them mourners paying condolences. Local police said 20 people were killed and 44 wounded.

Witnesses, reached by telephone, said the bomber exploded himself after the evening prayers, sending a fireball through the tent. By nightfall, nothing was left except the tent's metal scaffolding, and chairs littering the ground. Witnesses said survivors carried out the dead and wounded, who screamed in pain.

"We went inside the tent, and just a moment later, I heard a huge explosion and everything went black," said Riyadh Kamil al-Qaisi, a 34-year-old brought to the hospital in Jalawla with wounds to his right leg and face.

Snared in a still-resilient insurgency, Diyala remains one of Iraq's most precarious regions. Its population is a mix of Sunni and Shiite, Arab and Kurd. Arabs there have bristled at what they view as Kurdish territorial ambitions, and insurgents still wield influence across the province.

The funeral was for the brother of Khalil Abbas Khudadat, an official in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, officials said. Ibrahim Hassan Bajilan, a member of the Diyala provincial council and an official with Talabani's party, said the majority of those killed and wounded were from his party.

Earlier on Monday, police said a powerful blast tore through a house in Haswa, 15 miles east of Fallujah, killing nine people. Hospital officials said eight people were wounded. The Interior Ministry put the number of injured at 23.

Police said the blast targeted Emad and Ayad al-Halbousi, brothers who served as leaders of Awakening -- a tribal uprising that, with U.S. support, helped defeat insurgents in Sunni regions.

The family of Ayad al-Halbousi discovered an explosive planted outside the house Monday morning, said Mohammed al-Zawbae, a Haswa police major. The family alerted police, who came to disarm it. As family members and neighbors waited outside in the street, another explosive tore through Emad al-Halbousi's house before noon, he said.

Both brothers were killed, along with three of their children, said Khalil al-Dulaimi, a doctor at Abu Ghraib Hospital, near the town.

"We were at home when the police came and asked us to evacuate it to dismantle the explosives," said Latifa Annad, a 50-year-old neighbor who had taken her children to a relative's house, down the street, while the bomb was disarmed. "Then the explosion happened. I was wounded by flying glass."

It was the second attack in the region this month. On March 10, a suicide bomber targeting tribal leaders and security officials who had gathered for a reconciliation conference killed 33 people in a ramshackle vegetable market near the municipal office.

In another attack Monday, Interior Ministry officials said a car bomb detonated in Tall Afar, 50 miles west of Mosul. One policeman was killed.

Gul was welcomed at Baghdad International Airport by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and other officials in a visit that included talks with Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Turkey has pressed Baghdad and the government that runs the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq to stop Kurdish rebels from launching attacks on Turkey from bases in Iraq. Those rebels have been fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey since 1984, in a struggle that has killed tens of thousands of people.

In a news conference, Talabani said the rebels, loyal to a group known as the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, would have to end their fight from Iraq.

"Either they will lay down arms, or they will leave our territory," he said.

Iraq wants Turkey to allow more water to flow through dams along the Tigris River, an issue of tremendous importance for a country that is largely desert.

Correspondent Qais Mizher and special correspondents in Abu Ghraib and Baqubah contributed to this report.

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