Car Bombs Rock Sulaimaniyah

Violence shocks a quiet Kurdish city unaccustomed to the violence seen elsewhere in Iraq.

Car Bombs Rock Sulaimaniyah

Violence shocks a quiet Kurdish city unaccustomed to the violence seen elsewhere in Iraq.

Thursday, 24 November, 2005

Three car bombs ripped through this quiet Kurdish city on October 25, killing nine people and injuring at least 15.

The attacks, carried out by suicide car bombers, hit Kurdish government and security targets in Sulaimaniyah. They were believed to be one of the worst attacks in the city since Kurdish authorities won control of the region in 1991.

The interior ministry reported that two car bombs went off at around 9:30 am, when two cars packed with explosives surrounded a convoy transporting Mullah Bakhtiyar, a member of the political council of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the dominant party in this part of the Kurdish region.

The attack, near the Grdi Sarchinar neighbourhood, killed one of Bakhtiyar’s security guards, and injured six other people including other bodyguards and civilians. Bakhtiyar himself was unharmed.

The second attack occurred at 10:45 am, when a car rammed into concrete barriers in front of a building belonging to the Kurdish military or peshmerga, making it effectively the Kurds' defence ministry.

The attacks brought parts of Sulaimaniyah to a virtual standstill. Roadblocks were set up, and the streets remained mostly empty. Businesses and schools near the sites of the attacks closed.

Aswat al-Iraq, an Iraqi news website, reported that a group calling itself the "Kurdish Battalion", linked to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attacks in Sulaimaniyah. Al-Qaeda in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for bombing the Palestine and Sheraton hotels in Baghdad on October 24.

Yasin Sami, a spokesman for Sulaimaniyah’s security forces, said the authorities were holding the bodies of the three bombers, but would not comment on possible suspects, saying the claims published online could not be confirmed.

Meanwhile, city residents who witnessed the explosions were left in a state of shock.

“Car parts and flesh went flying,” recalled Ibrahim Hussein, a 29-year-old civil servant whose arm was broken in the first attack. “A head fell into the garden where I was. I think it was the head of the terrorist.”

Recovering in hospital, he condemned those behind the attack, saying, "Only shame and disgrace remains for them, and they will lose. They know nothing about humanity.”

Juma Hama, a 42-year-old truck driver, was injured in the second blast while driving past the peshmerga ministry. “I can’t describe that moment,” he said. “It looked like doomsday, and I felt almost numb.”

Security forces panicked and shot randomly into the air to clear the roads as they transported victims to hospital, reported an eyewitness who did not want to be named.

The attacks came just hours before the Independent Electoral Commission in Iraq officially announced that Iraqi voters had approved a controversial new constitution strongly backed by Kurdish lawmakers.

Until the attacks, Sulaimaniyah, a city of about 600,000 located 375 kilometres north east of Baghdad, had remained a tranquil bubble while violence spread through the rest of the country.

Ansar al-Islam, a radical group that hoped to create an Islamic state in the Kurdish territories, was once active in the mountains surrounding Sulaimaniyah, and had threatened Bakhtiyar in the past. Ansar al-Islam supporters were believed to have been killed or to have fled to Iran following the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Security forces spokesman Sami insisted that in the wake of the attacks, "We have taken strict security measures.

"We ask people to deal with these events calmly. These events don’t mean that the security situation has been disturbed.”

Talar Nadir and Ayyub Kareem are IWPR trainees in Sulaimaniyah.

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