Tue, Feb 03, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Bombs draw Kurd factions together

UNITED WE STAND Bomb attacks that killed 56 people at the offices of the two leading Kurdish parties will likely persuade the two feuding factions to pool their resources

AP , BAGHDAD

A Kurdish nurse attends burned victims of suicide bombers that killed 56 people and injured 200 others on Sunday at a local hospital in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.

PHOTO: AFP

The bloody suicide attacks against the major US-backed Kurdish parties are likely to suppress Kurdish factionalism -- at least in the short term -- and stiffen the Kurds' resolve for a strong degree of self-rule within a federal Iraq.

That is unlikely to go down well among the country's majority Arab community nor among the Turkomen, an ethnic group related to the Turks who like the Arabs fear Kurdish domination.

At stake is the unity of Iraq and control over the country's vast oil wealth, much of it centered around the northern city of Kirkuk, which is claimed by Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen as their own.

At least 56 people were killed and more than 200 injured Sunday when suicide bombers wearing explosives separately attacked the offices of both the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in the northern city of Irbil.

In statements issued after the attacks, top leaders of both parties expressed a will to work together to overcome the common terrorist enemy and to campaign even harder for a federal Iraqi state -- despite strong opposition to federalism among the Arab population.

"These terrorist acts are against the unity of our administrations that we have agreed on," KDP leader Massoud Barzani wrote to the PUK boss, Jalal Talabani. "The two of us, along with other political democratic parties, must work together to end these terrorist acts."

In his reply, Talabani promised to "work more seriously toward uniting our [Kurdish autonomous] government" and "work together in order to live in a democratic, federal Iraq."

Those pledges of cooperation came from leaders who have been bitter rivals for years, despite past agreements to work together in the interest of the Kurdish people.

The Kurds rose up against Saddam Hussein in 1991 after Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War but were overwhelmed by a government offensive.

International intervention stopped the onslaught and enabled the Kurds to establish a self-ruling region in northern Iraq protected by the US, in which both the KDP and PUK shared power.

However, a power struggle between the two parties erupted into armed hostility in 1994, when the Patriotic Union seized Irbil from the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Turkey backed the KDP and Iran supported the PUK.

Two years later, Saddam's forces entered the Kurdish area and ousted the Patriotic Union from Irbil. With US diplomatic help, the two parties divided the Kurdish region and established parallel administrations.

Sunday's attacks could bolster Kurdish arguments that they need to maintain their own militia, known as the peshmerga, for security, a demand that has become a delicate issue in discussions with the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

Kurdish writer Nazar Khailany believes the attacks will put pressure on Talabani and Barzani to set aside those past differences "and serve the principle cause of the Kurdish people."

"I hope this sad tragedy will lead to the unity of the parties," Khailany said.

However, that very unity may create more ethnic tensions in this factious country at a time when the US is attempting to find a formula to transfer power which will be accepted by all major communities.

US officials clearly favor federalism, which would enable the major groups -- Shiite and Sunni Arabs as well as Kurds -- to enjoy a degree of self-rule within a unified nation state without fearing suppression by the others.

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