Explosions Kill At Least 53 in Iraq, Raising Tensions

By Ernesto Londoño and Dlovan Brwari
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 11, 2009

BAGHDAD, Aug. 10 -- Two truck bombings in northern Iraq and attacks targeting day laborers in western Baghdad killed at least 53 people and wounded scores of others early Monday, exacerbating ethnic and political tensions in this country.

The truck bombings in a small village north of Mosul, in northern Iraq, marked one of the deadliest attacks in an area controlled by the autonomous Kurdish government. At least 35 people were killed and more than 110 were wounded in the attack, according to the U.S. military.

The bombings also stoked a long-running political dispute between the Kurdish regional government and the central government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Each side argues that its security force is best equipped to secure villages in northern areas, and attacks are frequently followed by accusations over which side is to blame.

The town of Khazna, where the blasts were set off around 5 a.m., is controlled by the pesh merga, the Kurdish government's militia, even though it is nominally part of Nineveh province. In recent months, though, Baghdad officials have sought to curb Kurdish expansion in northern Iraq by deploying forces to other disputed areas.

A Sunni lawmaker, Aiz Aldin al-Dawla, suggested that the Kurdish government might be covertly carrying out attacks like Monday's to convince minority groups along the disputed territories that they are better off under Kurdistan's mantle.

"If not the Kurds, who?" Dawla said in a phone interview. "Who else has the power, the weapons and the desire to control these areas?"

Kurds have rejected similar allegations in the past, saying the attacks are carried out by Sunni extremists motivated by a desire to consolidate their foothold in northern Iraq and undermine Baghdad's Shiite-led government.

Barham Salih, Iraq's Kurdish deputy prime minister, called Monday's bombings a "painful reminder" that security in the area remains fragile.

"We cannot be complacent [with] this plague of terrorism," he wrote in a Twitter update, later adding that the attacks "may be aimed at disrupting national elections & agitate sectarian/ethnic conflict."

Avas Mohammed Jabar, 55, a farmer in Khazna, said he had left his home a few minutes before the explosions rocked the small village, ravaging 35 houses and partially destroying another 25. He said Baghdad and Kurdistan officials would each use the incident to further their political goals.

"Everyone will start showing their muscles and saying they want to protect us," he said. "But everyone is willing to sacrifice us for their goals. We blame the Maliki government and the Kurdish government for all the mass killing we face with no mercy."

In Baghdad, two explosions targeted day laborers waiting for work in mixed, predominantly Shiite neighborhoods in the western part of the capital.

One, in the Shourta district, killed at least nine people and wounded 35, Iraqi police officials said. The other, in Amil, left seven dead and 46 wounded. A third explosion in Saidiya, in southwest Baghdad, killed two people and wounded 14, Iraqi police said.

The attacks came three days after a series of blasts in Mosul and Baghdad killed more than 50 people in predominantly Shiite areas.

After the June 30 nominal withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities, officials predicted that insurgents would step up attacks in an effort to create the impression that the Americans were leaving under a cloud of defeat.

U.S. military officials say insurgents are motivated by a desire to stoke sectarian tensions. Increasing bloodshed in the run-up to January's national election would likely hurt Maliki's chances of securing a second term.

Brwari reported from Khazna. Special correspondents Qais Mizher and Zaid Sabah in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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