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Bombings Shake Kirkuk

Officials blame al-Qaeda for attacks that leave dozens dead and injured.
Security and government officials believe al-Qaeda loyalists set off a series of car bombs in the northern city of Kirkuk this week as revenge for the killing of their leader.

Two car bombs targeted local police officials, two hit president Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan offices in Kirkuk and two roadside bombs killed 17 people and injured about 52 on June 13, according to a Kirkuk police source who spoke on condition of anonymity. Guards also shot a man believed to be a suicide bomber in a car when he tried to attack the same PUK office.

On the morning of June 14, another car bomb exploded in the al-Mas neighbourhood in Kirkuk, where emergency police and a PUK guesthouse are based but no one was killed or injured, according to a police source. The PUK called the attackers terrorists but otherwise did not comment on the attacks.

Officials believe that the attacks were reactions to the killing of Abu Musa'ab al-Zarqawi, head of al-Qaeda network in Iraq, last week. They said the group was trying to send a message that they are still powerful and active even though they lost their leader.

Kirkuk, an oil-rich city 255 kilometres north of the capital, is among the most ethnically and religiously diverse places in Iraq and has experienced a period of relative calm over the last few months. The attacks came as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced tougher measures to strengthen security in Baghdad.

"The al-Qaeda organisation [in Iraq] is behind these operations," said general Sherko Shakir, commander of Kirkuk's police forces, referring to the explosions, in a press conference at the Kirkuk police directorate.

He said police had shut down all entrances to the town to prevent further attacks but also said police expected more attacks "because Kirkuk is one of the safer cities in Iraq, and al-Qaeda's goal is to undermine security in stable areas in response to Zarqawi's murder".

The emergency room in Kirkuk hospital was flooded with victims from the bombings, and some said they feared that the hospital itself would be attacked.

A hospital source said that some of those injured died because the hospitals in Kirkuk don't have enough blood, despite a media appeal for donors.

"Our hospitals don't have enough blood when we need it," said the source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. "The crisis deepens when large-scale attacks take place and we have to help many victims."

Samah Samad is an IWPR trainee in Iraq.

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