Bombs kill 23 in Iraq's Kirkuk
KIRKUK, Iraq, Sep 17: Four blasts killed 23 people in Iraq's ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk today, including a huge suicide truck bomb, a day after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki urged divided Iraqis to embrace reconciliation.
In the deadliest blast, a suicide attacker driving a truck rigged with explosives blew himself up outside the offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the political party of Iraq's President Jalal Talabani, killing 17 people.
The area also houses a police crime centre and local offices of Iraq's state television. The toll included 10 women and two children visiting relatives being held at the police centre.
The explosion caused massive damage, with firefighters battling flames at collapsed buildings. Charred and mangled corpses lay in the streets with scattered bits of flesh and twisted car parts.
Three car bombs in separate areas also rocked the oil-rich city 250 km north of Baghdad, which is disputed by Sunni Arabs, ethnic Kurds and Turkmen. Hospital sources said the overall death toll could climb.
Settling Kirkuk's final status is one of post-war Iraq's most sensitive issues, and analysts have warned that failure to contain violence there could fan all-out civil war.
Baghdad police today found 15 more victims of sectarian death squads, all of them bound, bearing signs of torture and with a single gunshot to the head, bringing to almost 200 the number of bodies recovered over the past five days.
Shifting the security emphasis to Iraq's embattled capital, US and Iraqi security forces have launched a month-long crackdown in the city of seven million, which American commanders say is key to securing the rest of the country.
U S and Iraqi officials concede that sectarian violence between majority Shi'ites and Sunnis is a greater threat to Iraq's survival than the three-year-old Sunni Arab insurgency U.S.-led forces have been fighting mainly in the west and north. But fighting over Kirkuk between Arabs and Kurds also threatens to spark all-out civil war and break up the country, analysts warn.
Maliki, a Shi'ite Islamist who took office four months ago, has vowed to end violence that kills 100 people a day and has forced thousands to flee their homes in what some have compared to a Yugoslavia-style sectarian cleansing.
Under the Sunni-led rule of Saddam Hussein, thousands of Kurds were driven out of the city and replaced by Arabs, part of Saddam's efforts to ensure the region was under his control.
Iraqi Kurds now want the Kurds who were driven out of the city to be allowed to return, and for Kirkuk to be included in the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Iraq. But many Arabs and Turkmen are bitterly opposed to this and say they have a historical claim to the city.
A brother of one of Saddam's co-accused in the trial for genocide and crimes against humanity against Kurds in the 1980s was kidnapped from his Baghdad home on Friday, relatives and a defence lawyer said.
Amid al-Douri, who is the brother of Sabir al-Douri, former director of military intelligence under Saddam, was abducted by gunmen wearing civilian clothes in the Shi'ite neighbourhood of Kadhimiya, Badie Aref, a defence lawyer told Reuters.
Saddam and six other defendants are due to go back to a Baghdad courtroom on Monday.