Car bomb kills 11 in Kirkuk

The Baltimore Sun

BAGHDAD -- A car bomb killed 11 people yesterday in a Kurdish district of the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, police said, and a U.S. military helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing south of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the Security Council voted unanimously yesterday to expand the United Nations' presence in Iraq to help tackle political, economic and humanitarian problems that have eluded the U.S., British and Iraqi governments.

The resolution directs the U.N. to help reconcile rival factions and to mediate territorial disputes, such as in the northern Kurdish territory, where there is a pending referendum on the future of oil-rich Kirkuk.

The U.N. mission should also promote talks with Iraq's neighbors on border security and refugee issues, and rally international support for rebuilding the country, the resolution says.

The United States and Britain, which have the largest military forces in Iraq and which co-sponsored the resolution, have been pushing the world body to do more in the country because they believe the U.N. is perceived as more neutral and can approach ethnic and religious leaders that they cannot.

Specifically, the U.S. and Britain envision a series of U.N.-brokered talks with competing groups within Iraq, as well as meetings with Iraq's neighbors. They would be under U.N. auspices, but with the blessing of the Iraqi government and the backing of the U.S. and Britain - the powers that can guarantee the implementation of the outcome.

The resolution says the U.N. role should be expanded "as circumstances permit" - an important concession to the security-conscious U.N., which has kept only 65 staffers in the country since a 2003 bombing of its Baghdad headquarters. But even with a skeleton staff, the U.N. has helped set up an interim government, draft the constitution, organize elections and channel aid through a larger headquarters in Jordan.

Spokesmen for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa party and a key Shiite faction, the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, welcomed expanding the role of the U.N., as long as it did not interfere with the Iraqi government's decisions.

The explosion in the Hurriya neighborhood of multi-ethnic Kirkuk wounded 45 people, destroyed 25 shops and set nine cars ablaze, said police Col. Sarhad Qadir.

The number of attacks has been increasing in the Kirkuk region, including a bombing last month in the town of Amerli that killed about 150 people.

Kirkuk is divided by ethnic tensions that pit Kurds against Arabs and Turkmen, who oppose the Kurds' goal of annexing the oil-rich province to their semiautonomous region.

Market stall owner Salah Amin said he was closing his shop for Friday prayers when the blast threw him down, cutting his arms and legs.

"The extremists and the terrorists from al-Qaida are behind this explosion because they are against all of Iraq," he said.

He accused al-Qaida militants of coming from Diyala province to the south, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have taken back cities and towns from the radical movement in recent months.

"They are taking shelter in Kirkuk to destroy the city's security through igniting a war among its residents, including Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Assyrians," Amin said.

The attack appeared to raise mistrust among the Kurds, as their leaders evoked past tragedies suffered by the minority under the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

"Such an act is proof enough that terrorists are broken now and they are the same criminals whose hands were stained with the blood of the innocents earlier in Halabja and al-Anfal," said Rizkar Ali, a Kurdish politician and head of Kirkuk's provincial council.

He was referring to the 1988 Iraqi military campaign against the Kurds, which included the gassing of 5,000 Kurds in Halabja.

The U.S. military helicopter was forced to land in the town of Yousifiya, 20 miles southwest of Baghdad, although it was not clear whether the aircraft had a technical problem, hit an electrical wire or came under fire. The area is rife with Sunni and Shiite militant activity. The military said that two personnel suffered minor injuries, and that the incident was under investigation.

The U.S. military said it killed four Sunni militants and detained 10 others in Baghdad and around Salahuddin province north of the capital. Eight people were killed in other bombings and shootings around the country, police said.

For a third consecutive day, the number of bodies dumped in Baghdad from executions was low, as six corpses were found. The drop in violence was tied to a citywide curfew enforced for a Shiite religious ceremony Thursday marking the eighth-century death of Imam Musa al-Kadhim.

Maggie Farley and Ned Parker write for the Los Angeles Times.

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