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Kirkuk car bombs target Iraqi police, killing at least 29

Attacks hit region already frayed by rivals’ disputes

By Jack Healy
New York Times / May 20, 2011

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BAGHDAD — Three explosions aimed at Iraqi security forces ripped through the divided northern city of Kirkuk yesterday, killing at least 29 people, most of them police officers, and wounding scores more.

The attackers used a now-familiar tactic, detonating successive explosions that injured those who rushed to the scene of the first eruption. The initial blast was caused by a small improvised explosive device attached to a sedan in a parking lot outside Kirkuk police headquarters. After the police ran to the scene, a larger car bomb went off, killing 26 officers and three civilians.

“I didn’t feel anything,’’ said Kaweh Hama Rashid, a police officer wounded in the second blast. “I just fell to the ground, and blood covered me. I saw all of my friends dying and wounded in front of my eyes.’’

About 30 minutes later, a third car bomb exploded near the provincial government headquarters, wounding about 13 people, including Kirkuk’s head of criminal investigation, the target of the explosion, security officials said.

The attacks came at a fragile moment for Kirkuk. Three ethnic groups are grappling for control of the area and its rich oil reserves. The fight for primacy in Kirkuk among Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmens is one of the most potentially volatile issues facing Iraq as 46,000 US troops prepare to withdraw over the next six months.

“Kirkuk is witnessing a deterioration in the security situation,’’ said Hassan Toran, a Turkmen and head of the provincial council. “It’s possible the attacks will increase if American troops leave Iraq.’’

Security officials said at least 105 people were wounded in the blasts and that victims with critical burns were ferried to more advanced hospitals one to two hours away.

Dozens of wounded police officers filled the hallways of Kirkuk Hospital, some laid out on blood-covered floors, as family members crowded the entrance. Doctors said they were overwhelmed by the flood of people with severe burns and shrapnel wounds, and put out a call for blood donors. The US military also dispatched a team of medical providers after receiving requests for help.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered a team of investigators to the scene of the bombings and said the government would compensate the victims’ families.

Earlier this year, the US military sent troops into Kirkuk to help defuse a standoff between rival groups of security forces that had threatened to destabilize the city.

The dispute began in February when leaders of the semiautonomous Kurdistan region deployed their own soldiers — known as pesh merga — near largely Arab neighborhoods around Kirkuk, saying they were worried about attacks on peaceful demonstrations. But the move angered local Arab leaders, and US diplomats and military officials pressed Kurdish leaders to withdraw their soldiers.

Some officials and residents in Kirkuk said the standoff — which ended without bloodshed — demonstrated the need for a continuing US presence.

Iraqi leaders have said they plan to hold discussions in coming weeks about whether they should ask for some US troops to stay longer — a politically delicate question. US leaders have suggested they would consider the request.

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