Tag Archive: Kirkuk


Triple bombing kills 27 at Iraqi police station

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110519/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_iraq

By YAHYA BARZANJI and LARA JAKES, Associated Press Yahya Barzanji And Lara Jakes, Associated Press 1 hr 34 mins ago

KIRKUK, Iraq – A triple bombing killed 27 people and wounded scores outside a police station Thursday, heightening tensions in a northern Iraqi city already on edge after a string of kidnappings and attacks against security officers.

The new violence adds to strain that already besets Kirkuk, a city that has long been plagued by ethnic squabbles over land and oil fields. Iraqi and U.S. 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 American 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, lay 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 9 a.m., said police Capt. Abdul Salam Zangana. 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,” said one a police officer, Ahmed Hamid, who survived the strike. “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 550 yards (500 meters) 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, said provincial health director Siddiq Omar. Eyewitness Adnan Karim described the scene as “a chaos of terror and fear.”

Located 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Kirkuk has been an ethnic flashpoint for years among Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen, who each claim the oil-rich city as their own. Kirkuk’s two largest ethnic groups have their own competing security forces — the Arab national police and the predominantly Kurdish peshmerga forces — and that division has stoked tensions.

Within the last 10 days alone, police patrols in Kirkuk have been targeted in five roadside bombings and an Iraqi army base has been hit by two Kaytusha rockets, said city police Col. Sherzad Mofari.

In Mosul, another major city within the disputed territories, four Iraqi army soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb Thursday afternoon, a policeman said.

Also, Kirkuk kidnappers also killed a policeman and a Christian construction worker. The latter was dismembered after his attackers gave up on collecting the $100,000 random they had demanded.

Mofari blamed the violent upsurge on al-Qaida 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.

American 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, U.S. troops have worked to build partnerships between Iraqi army forces and the Kurdish security forces, known as peshmerga, to secure the swath of disputed lands that stretches over three northern Iraqi provinces — and over some of the world’s most lucrative oil reserves.

But as the U.S. 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 February, for example, the Kurdish government sent thousands of peshmerga around Kirkuk, claiming to be protecting the city from planned demonstrations that might turn violent. But the incursion scared Arab and Turkomen residents, who called it a thinly veiled attempt to surround Kirkuk with Kurdish forces. The peshmerga pulled back a few weeks later and the crisis passed without bloodshed.

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.

Hours after the bombings, the U.N. envoy to Iraq, Ad Melkert, called on all sides to quickly settle the disputes to prove that Iraqi leaders want to ensure security and stability across the country. The U.N. has been working with Kirkuk’s leaders for years to settle the dispute over the territory and get the census taken, but few believe it will be resolved any time soon.

At one hospital where victims were taken, some said they were close to giving up hope.

“This is because of carelessness of security,” said Awaz Kamal, 45, crying as she watched her son, policeman Saman Salih, being prepared for an operation to remove shrapnel from his stomach.

Around them, bloodied and bandaged victims lay on the floor, because the beds were already filled with patients.

Then a police truck pulled into the hospital driveway with four bodies lying motionless in the truck bed. It was not clear whether they were alive or dead.

___

Jakes reported from Baghdad. Associated Press writers Hamid Ahmed and Rebecca Santana also contributed.

Gates: Some US troops may stay if Iraq wants

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_gates_iraq

By ROBERT BURNS, AP National Security Writer Robert Burns, Ap National Security Writer Thu Apr 7, 6:33 am ET

BAGHDAD – The Obama administration would keep U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the agreed final withdrawal date of Dec. 31, 2011, if the Iraqi government wanted them, but the Iraqis need to decide “pretty quickly” in order for the Pentagon to accommodate the extension, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday during what he said probably is his final visit to this war-torn country.

Whether to negotiate an extended U.S. military presence is up to the Iraqis, he said, adding that he thought an extension might make sense.

“We are willing to have a presence beyond (2011), but we’ve got a lot of commitments,” he said, not only in Afghanistan and Libya but also in Japan, where he said 19 U.S. Navy ships and about 18,000 U.S. military personnel are assisting in earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor relief efforts.

“So if folks here are going to want us to have a presence, we’re going to need to get on with it pretty quickly in terms of our planning,” he added. “I think there is interest in having a continuing presence. The politics are such that we’ll just have to wait and see because the initiative ultimately has to come from the Iraqis.”

Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top American commander in Iraq, said the country is lacking important security capabilities. Those include the defense of its air space and the wherewithal to supply and maintain its own forces, he said.

Asked in an interview whether all Iraqi government officials are aware of these gaps, he replied, “Some more than others.”

He said the government’s inability thus far to appoint a defense minister and an interior minister has hampered its ability to make informed decisions about whether to ask the Americans to stay longer.

Speaking to a group of reporters traveling with Gates, Austin gave the strong impression that he thinks Iraq needs a U.S. military presence beyond December, but he said he had not yet been asked to provide a recommendation to Washington.

He said Iraq faced the possibility of a “more violent environment” next year, given the absence of U.S. military force and the failure to resolve key political problems, like the Kurd-Arab tensions in Kirkuk and elsewhere in the north.

The U.S. now has about 47,000 troops in Iraq, and they will begin leaving in large numbers in late summer or early fall. The U.S. led an invasion in March 2003 that toppled the government of President Saddam Hussein a month later, but an insurgency soon set in and the U.S. got mired in a conflict that has lasted far longer — and cost far more American and Iraqi lives — than Washington had anticipated.

Gates also said civil unrest in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, with majority Shiite Muslims pushing for an end to rule by the minority Sunnis, has created tensions in Iraq, whose Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is concerned about Bahrain’s crackdown on Shiites.

Gates said he expected to discuss this subject with al-Maliki in private meetings later Thursday.

Meghan O’Sullivan, a top Iraq adviser to President George W. Bush from 2005-07, said in an email exchange that al-Maliki faces enormous domestic political pressures on several fronts, including a small but vocal number of Iraqis demanding better government, and a security situation that is improved but still tense.

Together, these pressures make it unlikely that al-Maliki feels he can publicly invite the U.S. military to stay beyond this year.

“Understandably, the Obama administration was hoping for this sort of invitation, and likely feels struck, given that it is not forthcoming,” O’Sullivan said. “They can’t be seen wanting to keep more troops in Iraq than the Iraqis do.” O’Sullivan is now a professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School.

Under blue skies and a bright sun at a U.S. base just outside the Iraqi capital, Gates told a group of soldiers that he worries that a potential shutdown of the U.S. federal government will delay issuance of their paychecks. He assured them that they eventually would get full pay, but there could be a delay if Democrats and Republicans in Washington are unable to reach a budget deal this week.

“When I start to think of the inconvenience that it’s going to cause these kids (soldiers) and a lot of their families, even a half paycheck delayed can be a problem for them,” Gates told reporters after fielding several questions from the assembled soldiers. The first question posed to him was by a soldier asking about the ramifications for military members and their families of the budget crisis back home.

Gates assured them, “You will be paid,” then added that it might take a while, depending on the length of the political impasse in Washington.

In a brief exchange with reporters during a photo session with Gates earlier Thursday, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, James Jeffrey, said U.S. ground forces are “the glue” that is holding the country together. He said this leaves a mixed picture of the situation in Iraq because making arrangements to keep U.S. troops here beyond December is going to be difficult.

In his troop talk, Gates raised the matter of his impending retirement, recalling for soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, that his first visit to Iraq was in September 2006, three months before he replaced Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary. He recalled that on a visit to Baghdad in December 2006 he conducted a press conference while a gun battle was echoing in the distance.

In all, he estimated he has made 14 visits to Iraq.

“`This will probably be my last one,” he said.

Gates previously has said he intends to retire this year, but he has not been more specific about the timing. It is widely anticipated that he is planning to quit this summer.

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