BAGHDAD/ARBIL, Iraq, Aug 23, (Agencies): Bombings across Iraq killed at least 35 people in attacks that appeared to be revenge for an assault on a Sunni mosque that has deepened sectarian conflict. A bomb also exploded in the northern city of Arbil on Saturday, a rare attack unsettling the relative stability the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region has enjoyed. Local television footage showed firefighters dousing the charred remains of a car in Arbil. A Reuters journalist earlier saw a cloud of smoke, but the source was not clear. In Baghdad, a bomber rammed a vehicle into an intelligence headquarters, killing at least eight people, police and medical sources said. Near Tikrit, a suicide bomber driving a military Humvee packed with explosives attacked a gathering of soldiers and Shi’ite militias overnight, killing nine. Shi’ite militiamen machinegunned 68 worshipers at a village mosque in Diyala Province on Friday as politicians try to form a power-sharing government capable of countering Islamic State militants. An advance by Islamic State through northern Iraq has alarmed the Baghdad government Continued on Page 12 Continued on Page 12 and its Western allies and drawn US airstrikes in Iraq for the first time since the withdrawal of American troops in 2011. Although the air campaign has caused a few setbacks for Islamic State, they do not address the far broader problem of sectarian warfare which the group has fueled with attacks on Shi’ites. Bombings, kidnappings and execution-style shootings occur almost daily, echoing the dark days of 2006-2007, the peak of a sectarian civil war.
Target In addition to the Arbil attack, three bombings that appeared to target Kurdish forces killed 18 people in the city of Kirkuk, 250 kms (155 miles) north of Baghdad, security sources said. Islamic State routed Kurdish forces in its latest advance through the north. Two of Iraq’s most influential Sunni politicians suspended participation in talks on forming a new government after the militiamen carried out the mosque attack. Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq and Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jibouri have pulled out of talks with the main Shi’ite alliance until the results of an investigation into the killings are announced. Jibouri, a moderate Sunni, condemned both Islamic State as well as the Iranian-trained Shi’ite militias who Sunnis say kidnap and kill members of their sect with impunity. “We will not allow them to exploit disturbed security in the country to undermine the political process. We believe the political process should move on,” he told a news conference on Saturday.
Tensions Meanwhile, Iraqi officials worked Saturday to calm soaring tensions after 70 people were gunned down at a Sunni mosque, as bombings in Baghdad and the north killed over two dozen more. The attack at the mosque in Diyala province the day before, which most accounts said was the work of Shiite militiamen, threatens to increase anger among Iraq’s Sunni Muslim minority with the Shiite-led government at a time when an anti-militant drive depends on their cooperation. The violence came as the US, which is carrying out air strikes in Iraq against Islamic State (IS) jihadists, ramped up its rhetoric over the grisly killing of journalist James Foley by the group and shown in a video posted online.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said Foley’s beheading “represents a terrorist attack against our country”. On Saturday, Iraq’s Sunni parliament speaker sought to calm sectarian tensions stirred by the mosque attack. Salim al-Juburi called for political unity and said “the main aim (of the mosque attack) is to foil all the efforts that have been made to form a government”. “All the political entities condemned the crime, all of them expressed their anger about what happened,” he said in televised remarks. “Now we are waiting for practical measures to hold the criminals accountable.” Premier-designate Haidar al-Abadi, a Shiite, has condemned the attack and called for “citizens to close ranks to deny the opportunity to the enemies of Iraq who are trying to provoke strife”. Rights group Amnesty International called Friday’s attack a “massacre”, and said Iraqi authorities “must properly investigate”. Army and police officers said the attack on the Musab bin Omair Mosque in Diyala came after Shiite militiamen were killed in clashes, while other sources said it followed a roadside bomb near one of their patrols. Doctors and the officers put the toll from the attack, in which worshippers were sprayed with machinegun fire, at 70 dead and 20 wounded. Two officers earlier blamed IS for the attack, but most accounts pointed to Shiite militiamen. The interior ministry announced an investigation into the attack, which it said was carried out by two men on a motorbike following a bombing targeting security and volunteer forces in the area. The government turned to militiamen to bolster its flagging forces during an IS-led offensive that has overrun large areas of five provinces since June, but in doing so has encouraged a resurgence of groups involved in brutal sectarian killings in past years. Ibrahim Aziz Ali, whose 25-year-old nephew was among those killed Friday, told AFP he saw five vehicles with images of Imam Hussein, one of the most revered figures in Shiite Islam, parked at the mosque. When he and other residents could finally enter, “we found a massacre”, Ali said.
As officials sought to limit the fallout from the mosque attack, bombings in Baghdad and two northern cities killed at least 27 people and wounded more than 150, officials said. Three car bombs exploded in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing 21 people, while six more died when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle at the entrance to the interior ministry’s intelligence headquarters in Baghdad. Another car bombing wounded three people in Kurdish regional capital Arbil, a rare attack in a city usually spared the deadly violence that plagues other areas of Iraq. The United Nations, meanwhile, warned Saturday that the Shiite Turkmen-majority Iraqi town of Amerli is under threat of a “massacre” by jihadists who have besieged it for more than two months.