A triple bombing killed 27 people and wounded scores outside a police station, heightening tensions in a northern Iraqi city already on edge after a string of kidnappings and attacks against security officers.
The new violence on Thursday adds to strain that already besets Kirkuk, a city that has long been plagued by ethnic squabbles over land and oil fields. Iraqi and US officials long have feared Kirkuk and the disputed lands surrounding it — sandwiched between Arab villages and an autonomous Kurdish region — could destabilize the country if US forces leave at the end of this year on schedule.
“This shows there is no government in this country,” railed Ahmed Salih, 55, sitting next to a hospital bed where his 30-year-old son, Omar Ahmed, laid with bandages around his head and legs. “How such an incident can take place at the police station, where there is security, is nonsense.”
The first blast, a bomb stuck to a car in a parking lot in central Kirkuk, lured policemen out of their fortified headquarters to investigate around 9am, police Captain Abdul Salam Zangana said. Three minutes later, a second blast rocked the lot when a car packed with explosives blew up in the crowd of police.
“The boots of police officers were scattered at the scene,” police officer Ahmed Hamid said. “I saw a severed hand on the ground.”
The third bomb, planted on a road leading to a hospital, set cars and trucks ablaze when it exploded about 500m away less than an hour later. Zangana said it targeted a police patrol near a mosque.
In all, the blasts killed 27 — most of them police officers — and wounded at least 60 people, provincial health director Siddiq Omar said. Eyewitness Adnan Karim described the scene as “a chaos of terror and fear.”
Within the past 10 days alone, police patrols in Kirkuk have been targeted in five roadside bombings and an Iraqi army base has been hit by two Katyusha rockets, city police Colonel Sherzad Mofari said.
In Mosul, another major city within the disputed territories, four Iraqi army soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb on Thursday afternoon, a policeman said.
Also, Kirkuk kidnappers killed a policeman and a Christian construction worker. The latter was dismembered after his attackers gave up on collecting the US$100,000 ransom they had demanded.
Mofari blamed the violent upsurge on al-Qaeda and its allies in Iraq, which seek to stir up Kirkuk’s tensions.
“They are trying to keep this instability of security in the city for a long time,” he said.
US military commanders have long worried that the simmering fight over Kirkuk could provoke violence that could spread to the rest of the country. For the last several years, US troops have worked to build partnerships between Iraqi Army forces and the Kurdish security forces to secure the swath of disputed lands that stretches over three northern Iraqi governorates — and over some of the world’s most lucrative oil reserves.
However, as US troops withdraw, there is little indication the Kurdish-Arab partnerships will hold and officials gloomily predict they could return to violence if the Americans leave as scheduled on Dec. 31.
In Baghdad, lawmakers are still haggling over rules for taking a national census that that would determine Kirkuk’s residency — and therefore which ethnic group can rightfully claim power — trying to shape the eligibility requirements to best suit their constituents.