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Bomb kills 10 Iraqi troops as ethnic tensions rise

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By SINAN SALAHEDDIN
The Associated Press
Monday, March 14, 2011; 2:05 PM

BAGHDAD -- A suicide bomber in a booby-trapped truck killed 10 Iraqi soldiers Monday and leveled the unit's headquarters as protesters demanded the resignation of Iraq's president for making comments they said could incite violence.

The early morning attack on an Iraqi army intelligence battalion headquarters in eastern Diyala province also wounded 30 people, including 15 troops, serving as a harsh reminder of the nation's continuing instability.

In an unrelated demonstration in Baghdad hours later, hundreds gathered to demand the resignation of President Jalal Talabani after he described an ethnically mixed city in Iraq's north as Jerusalem for Kurds - suggesting they must fight to keep the city in the semiautonomous Kurdistan region, rather than leaving it to rule by the majority-Arab Baghdad. Talabani is Kurdish.

"I don't want to fight my Iraqi brothers over land that we have all owned for thousands of years," car salesman Taha Hassan Ahmed said at the gathering in Baghdad's Tahrir Square where hundreds of supporters signed petitions demanding Talabani's resignation.

"Destabilizing Iraq will not serve Iraqis," he said. "It will only serve the politicians who are acting as lords of war."

In eastern Diyala province, about 35 miles (60 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad, emergency workers were frantically trying to rescue victims from beneath the rubble of the destroyed army headquarters several hours after the deafening 6:10 a.m. explosion. Diyala health directorate spokesman Faris al-Azawi said 10 soldiers were killed and 30 people wounded in the blast.

Al-Azawi said the bomber drove his truck - packed with an estimated 800 kilograms (1,700 pounds) - past a security gate and detonated his explosives right outside the headquarters. A second bomb was discovered nearby but diffused by officials before it could explode.

A senior Iraqi intelligence official in Baghdad blamed the attack on al-Qaida and said authorities believe the same cell of insurgents may already have planned another strike in the capital but are looking for funding to carry it out.

The intelligence official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media. In January, the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaida front group, claimed responsibility for two bombings at a security force headquarters in Baqouba that killed 10 people.

In the controversy surrounding Talabani, the threat comes from a long-standing land battle between Iraq's Kurds and Arabs, rather than from insurgents.

At issue is the city of Kirkuk, located 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Baghdad, which Kurds and Arabs each claim as their own. Tensions in the city have long been a top concern for U.S. diplomats and military officials who fear it could unravel Iraq's tenuous security should Kirkuk's fragile peace fall apart.

At a March 7 meeting of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Talabani urged his party faithful to continue pushing for the inclusion of Kirkuk into the semiautonomous Kurdistan region.

"The Kurds must not forget reintegrating the disputed lands to Kurdistan," Talabani said. "Kirkuk is Kurdistan's Jerusalem."

A spokesman later said Talabani was talking as a party leader, and not as Iraq's president, when he made the comments.

Several hundred people signed petitions Monday at the Tahrir Square protest demanding that Talabani either quit or apologize, said organizer Hassan Jumaa. He said he so far has collected 20,000 signatures, and demonstrations across Iraq will continue if Talabani stays on.

Also Monday, an Iraqi Justice Ministry spokesman said officials will shut down Camp Honor, a prison in the Green Zone, where human rights watchdogs believe inmates have been abused. In a report last month, New York-based Human Rights Watch quoted prisoners at Camp Honor who said they were tortured during interrogations and described cells "so crowded that we had to take turns standing and lying down."

The abuse claims were first reported by The Los Angeles Times.

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Associated Press writers Lara Jakes and Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.


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