Minority Groups Targeted Again in Iraqi Suicide Bombings

By Ernesto Londoño and Dlovan Brwari
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, August 14, 2009

BAGHDAD, Aug. 13 -- Two suicide bombers killed at least 21 people in a cafe in northern Iraq on Thursday, Iraqi officials said, in the latest attack targeting ethnic or religious minorities in disputed territories.

The double bombing occurred about 5 p.m. in the Ayoub coffeehouse in Sinjar, a town about 240 miles northwest of Baghdad. Most of the victims were Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking religious minority. At least 30 people were wounded.

The attack, like other recent bombings, appeared intended to exacerbate tensions along a 300-mile stretch of disputed territory near the Kurdish north, pitting the Kurdish autonomous government against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration in Baghdad.

Although Sinjar is nominally part of Nineveh province, one of the three Iraqi provinces that border the Kurdish-controlled area, it is patrolled by the pesh merga, the Kurdish government's paramilitary force.

Nineveh's newly installed governor, Atheel al-Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab, campaigned on a promise to curb Kurdish expansion and has said he wants a military force in the province that is under his command. The mayor of Sinjar, Dakhil Qassim Hassoun, is close to the Kurdish government and has strained ties with Nujaifi.

Pesh merga units have come close to armed conflict with Iraqi army troops in recent months, as Maliki has sent additional soldiers loyal to the Baghdad government to areas that the Kurdish force has controlled in recent years.

With the U.S. military reducing its presence in Iraqi cities in recent weeks, insurgents have carried out several mass-casualty attacks in northern Iraq targeting members of ethnic and religious minorities.

On Monday, twin car bombs near Mosul leveled several houses in a village and killed at least 35 people, most of them members of the Shabak religious minority. That village was also under pesh merga control. Last Friday, more than 40 people, most of them Shiite Turkmens, were killed in Mosul after a car bomb detonated outside a mosque. More than 150 people have been killed in violent incidents in Iraq since Friday, according to a tally by the Associated Press.

Maj. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., the top U.S. commander in northern Iraq, said at a recent news conference that Sunni insurgents remain "a resilient force that has the capability to regenerate their combat power."

Residents said the cafe attacked Thursday is on the outskirts of Sinjar, in a scenic spot frequented by young people.

"This coffee shop is located on a farm that people visit in the summer to watch the sun set," said Saad Sabri, 25, a pharmacist.

In August 2007, Sinjar was the site of the deadliest string of attacks in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion when about 400 people, mostly Yazidis, were killed in a series of powerful explosions.

Special correspondent Zaid Sabah contributed to this report.

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