Bombs rock Kirkuk; Zarqawi’s revenge?

Yesterday’s multiple coordinated suicide attacks in Kirkuk, leaving over 20 dead, seemed intended not only to demonstrate that the “insurgency” (a rather too flattering word) is still alive despite the killing of al-Zarqawi, but also to advance the late jihad leader’s aim of pushing Iraq into sectarian civil war. Kirkuk is simmering with ethnic tensions, with Arab, Kurdish and Turkoman residents (who had been cynically played off against each other under the Saddam dictatorship) vying for turf and political power. (See WW4 REPORT #48). Thus far, however, the city remains one of the more peaceful in Iraq, in part due to the ethnic-reconciliation and solidarity-building efforts of the Iraq Freedom Congress. (See WW4 REPORT #119). The Kirkuk attacks ostensibly targeted official buildings and police patrols, but the reckless and indistriminate “collatoral damage” seems clearly aimed at a general atmosphere of terror. From the UK Guardian:

A coordinated wave of suicide attacks and remote-controlled bombs rocked the contested northern oil city of Kirkuk on Tuesday, leaving at least 22 people dead and wounding 43.

Senior security officials in the city blamed the onslaught on “a final act of desperation and destruction” by members of al-Qaida in Iraq following the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It was the worst violence the city, an ethnically tense mixture of Kurds, Arabs and Turkomans, has seen since the US invasion in 2003.

The bombers struck as many Kirkuk residents were going to work. In the central Quraya neighbourhood, a suicide car bomb exploded outside the house of a senior police officer, Brigadier General Torhan, seriously wounding him and killing one of his bodyguards.

In a now familiar insurgent tactic, police and passersby who came to help were hit by a remote-controlled car bomb, which killed 13 civilians and wounded 17.

Among the dead was an interpreter for the British embassy office in Kirkuk who was driving to work when caught by the blast. Shortly afterwards, a suicide bomber in a car was shot by guards as he tried to attack Kirkuk’s police headquarters. He blew himself up, killing two policemen and wounding 10 civilians.

Across town a suicide car bomber blew himself up outside offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which is led by the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani. Two people were wounded, police said. A second suicide bomber then drove at speed at the same building but was shot and killed by guards before he could detonate his bomb. Another suicide bomber struck a security building in the Wasit neighbourhood, wounding four civilians.

Also in central Kirkuk, a roadside bomb exploded outside a law college as a police convoy was passing, killing one person and wounding two.

As police cleared the streets of rubble and the burned out wreckage of cars, residents expressed their shock. “I didn’t think that they would or could strike like this here,” said Nawal Hussein, a civil servant, at the scene of one suicide attack.

Kirkuk, which sits atop Iraq’s second largest oilfields, has largely avoided the bombing, kidnappings and sectarian violence racking Baghdad and the Sunni triangle. A senior security official in the city, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the suicide attackers were believed to be foreign nationals working with al-Qaida in Iraq. “Following the death of their hero, and the subsequent raids in the Baquba area, they left for Tikrit,” he said.

Iraqi authorities believe Tikrit, about 75 miles southwest of Kirkuk, is an important command and control centre for the Sunni-Arab insurgency. “There they were given new instructions and bombs and headed for the southern side of Kirkuk,” said the official.

“They must have somehow passed through checkpoints” protecting the city’s southern flank, he said, hinting at collusion by guards manning the checkpoints. “Rather than proving they are still potent after the death of Zarqawi, this was their last act of desperation and destruction.”

See our last post on Iraq, and the ongoing sectarian cleansing.