Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Once-Calm Area Of Iraq Is Shaken By Bombings

New York Times
September 30, 2013
Pg. 9


By Tim Arango
BAGHDAD — Several explosions, some of them from suicide bombers, struck the heart of Iraq’s northern Kurdish region on Sunday, setting off chaos and gunfights in the streets of the capital, Erbil.
The attackers hit a building that houses the regional Kurdish government’s security service, and the scenes that unfolded — terrified people fleeing black plumes of smoke, the charred and smoking husks of vehicles in the streets — were extraordinary for a region that has largely been spared the violence that for years has plagued the rest of Iraq.
In the aftermath, Iraqi forces swept across Erbil, and Sulaimaniya, another major Kurdish city, setting up checkpoints and other security measures familiar to residents of other Iraqi cities.
Officials said at least six people — all members of the Kurdish security forces — were killed and dozens more wounded in the attacks, which included at least five explosions. The violence gripped the region with the sort of fear that has long enveloped the rest of the country. A statement from the regional government said six attackers were also killed.
The attacks came just after the results of the region’s parliamentary elections were announced, but much of the speculation surrounding the motivation for the attack centered on Syria, where Kurdish militias, some of them supported and trained by the security forces in Iraqi Kurdistan, have been fighting against jihadist groups linked to Al Qaeda. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings.
“We all know that Kurdistan is part of an unstable region, and security breaches sometimes happen even in developed countries, and I think that what is happening in Syria has something to do with today’s explosions,” said Shwan Taha, a Kurdish member of Iraq’s Parliament in Baghdad.
In a statement, the United Nations office in Baghdad expressed shock at the “daring attack.”
“For many years, the city of Erbil has benefited from peace and security, and I urge the regional and national authorities to work together to ensure that calm and tranquillity will continue to prevail and that those responsible for the attack are brought to justice,” Nikolay Mladenov, the United Nations representative to Iraq, said in the statement.
The self-governing Iraqi Kurdish region has been a haven of relative security and prosperity compared with the rest of the country, and it has attracted substantial foreign investment, including from foreign oil companies eager to develop the region’s vast oil reserves. During the years that American troops were fighting in Iraq, not a single American soldier was killed in combat in Iraqi Kurdistan. But the attacks on Sunday demonstrated that no place in Iraq was truly safe, as the war in Syria increasingly spills over its borders and as Iraq’s own Sunni insurgent groups accelerate their attacks.
Iraq’s Qaeda affiliate has gained strength across the country, but particularly in the northern city of Mosul, not far from the border with Iraqi Kurdistan, leading to speculation that groups there could have been behind the bombings.
The last significant attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan occurred in 2007, when the Interior Ministry building in Erbil was struck.
Iraq’s Kurdish leaders have sought to portray their region as a hub for foreign investment and a bastion of stability, but it has become increasingly affected by the war in Syria, where a minority Kurdish population has taken up arms to secure a measure of autonomy. Thousands of Syrian Kurdish refugees have streamed into northern Iraq, and Iraqi Kurdish leaders, especially the regional president, Massoud Barzani, have offered support to Kurdish militiamen within Syria. Mr. Barzani has even threatened to intervene militarily in Syria with his own security forces, known as the pesh merga.
The attacks on Sunday appeared to have been coordinated and well organized, with the perpetrators wearing military uniforms. After the initial explosion, an ambulance filled with explosives, which apparently had been waved in by members of the security forces, also detonated, according to a security official in Erbil.
The Erbil attacks were the most remarkable ones on Sunday in Iraq because of their location, but they were not the deadliest. In the afternoon, two suicide bombers detonated explosives in a Shiite mosque south of Baghdad during a funeral for three members of a family who had been killed several days ago when their house was blown up by terrorists. In the bombing on Sunday, which was the latest in a string of terrorist strikes against funerals in Iraq, at least 31 people were killed and nearly 50 wounded.
As night fell in Iraq, another explosion occurred, this one in Sadr City, a Shiite stronghold in Baghdad, where a car bomb exploded at a vegetable market, killing at least five people and wounding more than a dozen.
Duraid Adnan and Yasir Ghazi contributed reporting, and employees of The New York Times contributed reporting from Baghdad, Sulaimaniya and Hilla, Iraq.

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