Insurgents killed at least 30 people and aggravated Iraq’s hostile ethnic divide with a string of bombs in the northern city of Kirkuk, as well as attacks in volatile Anbar province and in Baghdad on Sunday.
In Kirkuk, a huge suicide truck bomb in coordination with four other vehicle bombs killed 23 people and wounded 77 others. Mortars and car bombs killed five in the city of Fallujah in Iraq’s biggest and most volatile province of Anbar, where U.S. forces are being reduced to reinforce the capital Baghdad.
Kirkuk is an oil-rich flashpoint in the north disputed by Sunni Arabs, ethnic Kurds and Turkmen. A failure to contain violence could spark all-out war across a country already in the grip of sectarian strife between Muslim Shi’ites and Sunnis.
In the deadliest blast on Sunday, a suicide attacker driving a truck rigged with explosives blew himself up outside a police center killing 17 people, mostly civilians, police said. The toll included 10 women and two children visiting relatives.
Within an hour, a car bomb targeting a U.S. military patrol killed three civilians and wounded six in the city. Minutes later, another suicide car bomber rammed into an Iraqi army checkpoint, wounding two soldiers. Two other car bombs followed.
Firefighters battled flames at collapsed buildings and charred bodies lay in streets littered with bits of flesh and car parts. The area where the truck bomb exploded also houses the headquarters of Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani and Kurdish regional president Massoud Barzani.
Kirkuk Police chief Major General Sherko Shakir said the near simultaneous explosions, among the worst violence in the city in months, were intended to "destabilise the city."
The U.S. military called the mortar and car bomb attacks directed at a U.S. military center in charge of reconstruction in Falluja "complex and coordinated." The five killed there included two Iraqi police and one Iraqi soldier. No U.S. casualties were reported in the attack, which wounded 23.
U.S. commanders are diverting troops to Baghdad from Anbar province for a month-old crackdown in the capital, which they see as the key to securing the country.
That tactic has been questioned after a leaked U.S. Marine intelligence report said Washington would need another division to defeat insurgents in Anbar, heartland of the Sunni Arab insurgency and the deadliest province for U.S. troops.
A roadside bomb in a popular bird and animal market in Baghdad killed two people and wounded eight, police said.
U.S. and Iraqi officials say sectarian violence between majority Shi’ites and Sunnis is a greater threat to Iraq’s survival than the three-year-old Sunni insurgency U.S.-led forces have been fighting mainly west and north of Baghdad.
In the capital, police found 24 more victims of sectarian death squads in the past 24 hours, all of them bound, bearing signs of torture and with a single gunshot to the head, bringing to more than 200 the number of such bodies in five days.
U.S. officials fear bloodshed may worsen with the holy month of Ramadan next week and have said car bombs could be a preferred tactic by al Qaeda and other Sunni insurgent groups. Kurds were driven out of Kirkuk and replaced by Arabs, part of Saddam’s "Arabisation" campaign to ensure control of the region.
Iraqi Kurds now want those driven out of the city to be allowed to return, and for Kirkuk to be included in their autonomous Kurdistan region in the north. Many Arabs and Turkmen oppose this, and maintain a historical claim to Kirkuk.
In a move that could further expose sectarian fault lines, Shi’ite lawmakers plan to introduce a bill on Tuesday to define the mechanisms of federalism, opposed by Sunnis.
Some Shi’ites want to create a region in the oil-rich south, modeled on Kurdistan, but Sunnis fear it would break up Iraq and cut them off from its oil wealth in the north and south.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite Islamist, has vowed to reconcile Iraq’s warring sects and ethnic groups and end violence that kills 100 people a day.
Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited