Key Shiite cleric survives bombing at his home in Iraq

THE BALTIMORE SUN

KIRKUK, Iraq -- A bomb exploded outside the home of one of Iraq's most important Shiite leaders, killing three guards and injuring 10 others, and the U.S. administrator in Iraq again warned of a growing terrorist threat.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, police remained on high alert yesterday after ethnic clashes there and in a nearby city left at least 11 dead and raised the specter of further violence in this war-scarred country.

Yesterday, a gas cylinder bomb was placed outside the home of Mohammed Saeed Hakim in Najaf, one of the Shiites' holiest cities. Hakim, who was returning home after noon prayers, was not seriously hurt in the blast.

Hakim is a leader on the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, which is one of the main Shiite parties in Iraq and is represented on the Iraqi Governing Council.

No one claimed responsibility for the bombing. But the Supreme Council has been criticized by some Shiites for cooperating with the United States and taking a seat on the governing council.

The clashes between rival Kurds and Turkmen in northern Iraq erupted Friday in Tuz Khurmatu after the Turkmen accused the Kurds of damaging one of their sacred shrines.

As Turkmen rioted and a gunbattle broke out, U.S. forces and Iraqi police were sent to quell the violence. Eight people reportedly were killed, including two by Iraqi police.

The violence spread Saturday to Kirkuk, a key oil city, where gunmen supporting Turkmen protesters allegedly opened fire on the largely Kurdish police force. A gunbattle ensued, leaving three people dead and a government building gutted by fire, said law enforcement officials.

A tense calm returned yesterday, but leaders warned of further clashes as the Kurds and Turkmen -- two ethnic minorities -- struggle for power.

"For the last five months, things have been stable," said Ifarn Kirkukly, a Kurd who is Kirkuk's assistant mayor. "There are other hands working to cause problems here. We can't let that happen."

The incidents are signs of potential trouble for the U.S.-led coalition, which has suffered guerrilla attacks but hasn't had to deal with large-scale ethnic and religious violence.

An escalation in such tensions would further complicate U.S. efforts to stabilize a nation still reeling from Tuesday's devastating truck bombing at the United Nations headquarters and the deaths Saturday of three British soldiers in Basra.

Col. Guy Shields, a U.S. military spokesman, played down the notion yesterday that violence is spreading to areas once considered relatively peaceful. But he also noted that coalition forces had been attacked 25 times in the past two days: "It is one of the things that shows us, and our soldiers know, that we need to be prepared anywhere throughout the country."

L. Paul Bremer III, U.S. administrator in Iraq, said that he believes Saddam Hussein loyalists have carried out most attacks on coalition troops but that international terrorism is an "emerging problem."

"We are now seeing a large number of international terrorists coming into Iraq," Bremer said on ABC's This Week.

Bremer repeated his warning that the foreign terrorist group Ansar al-Islam, which allegedly is affiliated with al-Qaida, has infiltrated from Iran. He has said that Ansar is one of the groups suspected in Tuesday's bombing in Baghdad that killed 23 people.

Charles Heatly, a coalition spokesman said U.S. authorities "were not leaving any stone unturned to uncover these people who are conducting attacks against the Iraqi people, against the Iraqi infrastructure, against the coalition forces."

But Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who has just returned from Iraq, warned on NBC's Meet the Press that frustration among the population is undermining the U.S.-led reconstruction effort, and he called on the Bush administration to commit thousands more troops and more money.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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