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The Bloody Toll Mounts in Iraq

The Bombing of Kirkuk

by PATRICK COCKBURN

A suicide bomber killed 21 people and wounded 170 in an attack in northern Iraq today, in a sign that the shift of al-Qa’ida militants to Syria is not leading to a reduction in their activities in Iraq. Shoppers and police helped drag injured survivors from ruined buildings and wrecked vehicles after the huge blasts in the city of Kirkuk.

Ten years after the US invasion of Iraq led to guerrilla war in which suicide bombs were a principle weapon, the government in Baghdad is still unable to prevent such attacks.

The suicide bomber, driving a truck packed with explosives, detonated the vehicle outside the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) headquarters in Kirkuk, Police Brigadier Sarhat Qadir told Reuters.

Another three people were killed and 37 injured in a second bomb attack on a Kurdish political office in Tuz Khurmato on the road between Kirkuk and Baghdad. A further seven policemen and soldiers were killed in gun and bomb attacks in Baghdad and Baiji north of Baghdad.

The attacks underline that Iraq remains an extremely violent place despite the large size of its security forces. Some 4,400 people were killed in attacks in 2012. There is continuing confrontation between Sunni and Shia Muslims and between Arabs and Kurds.

The latest bombings have the hallmarks of al-Qa’ida in Mesopotamia and they are in a disputed area that has created insoluble differences between Arabs and Kurds.

Until about a year ago, Iraq appeared to have achieved a bloody balance of power between its three main communities, Shia, Sunni and Kurds. The Sunnis had lost the political dominance they enjoyed under Saddam Hussein, while the Shia majority, allied to the Kurds, held the top jobs in the government under a quota system, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki increasingly concentrated power on himself and his inner circle.

But the civil war in Syria, with the prospect of that country’s Sunni majority taking power, has heartened the Sunni minority in Iraq. They see themselves marginalised, denied jobs in government and the security forces.

The Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni, fled to Iraqi Kurdistan and has been sentenced to death in absentia for allegedly masterminding the murder of rivals – charges he says are politically motivated.

Over the last month there have  been large demonstrations in the  overwhelmingly Sunni Anbar Province protesting against the staff of the Sunni Finance Minister being arrested on terrorism charges.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.