Suicide bomber strikes Kurdish funeral, killing 23

8 more people killed by bomb near bus stop

By Robert H. Reid
Associated Press / March 24, 2009
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BAGHDAD - A suicide bomber struck a tent filled yesterday with Kurdish funeral mourners, unleashing a huge fireball that killed at least 23 people in a northern town where Kurds and Arabs are competing for power.

Also yesterday, Turkey's visiting president pressed the Iraqi government to crack down on Kurdish rebels who stage cross-border raids into Turkish territory from sanctuaries in northern Iraq.

The provincial security office said 23 people were killed and 34 were wounded in the suicide attack in the town of Jalula, about 80 miles northeast of Baghdad.

A member of the provincial security committee, Amir Rifaat, said 24 people were killed and 28 were wounded.

Elsewhere, eight people were killed and 10 were wounded in a bombing near a bus stop west of Baghdad, and a policeman died and eight people were wounded in a suicide blast at a market in the northern town of Tal Afar.

A series of high-profile bombings this month has raised concern that insurgents may be regrouping as the United States begins to scale back combat operations and hand over security responsibility to the Iraqis ahead of a planned American troop withdrawal by the end of 2011.

The attack in Jalula was noteworthy because it points to rising tension in the north between Kurds and Arabs over control of a swath of territory that the Kurds want to incorporate into their self-ruled region.

US officials believe Kurdish-Arab tension is among the major flashpoint issues threatening Iraqi stability now that the threat posed by Sunni and Shi'ite insurgents has been diminished.

Last August a suicide bomber killed 25 people, mostly police volunteers, in Jalula, a predominantly Arab town where the Iraqi army forced out Kurdish fighters of the self-ruled Kurdish government last year after a standoff that US officials feared would lead to armed conflict.

A Jalula resident who was wounded in yesterday's blast blamed Al Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni Arab organization that typically carries out suicide bombings. He identified himself only by his nickname, Abu Holman.

"Al Qaeda is targeting the Kurds because it believes that we are involved in the political process and collaborating with the Americans," Abu Holman said from his hospital bed. "There are still many Al Qaeda hotbeds in our area."

Kurdish issues were at the forefront of talks in Baghdad between Iraqi officials and Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who arrived yesterday for the first visit here by a Turkish head of state in more than 30 years.

Gul urged the Iraqis to close down the Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK, which launches attacks in southeastern Turkey from sanctuaries in northern Iraq. "The time has come to remove the element that is a source of trouble," Gul said during a joint news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd.

"We need to engage in a joint struggle to completely eradicate terrorism," Gul said. "A comprehensive cooperation is required. There is no doubt that a greater role falls to the [place] where the terrorist organization's leadership and camps are based."

For his part, Talabani said the removal of the PKK rebels was in Iraq's interest as well and called on the rebels to lay down their arms. The rebels have been fighting for autonomy in Turkey's southeast since 1984.

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