- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2007

BAGHDAD (AP) — Four suicide bombers hit Kurdish Yazidi communities with nearly simultaneous attacks yesterday, killing at least 175 persons and wounding 200 others, said Iraqi military and local officials in northwest Iraq.

The death toll was the highest in a concerted attack since Nov. 23, when 215 persons were killed by mortar fire and five car bombs in Baghdad’s Shi’ite enclave of Sadr City.

The bombs yesterday tore through the districts near Qahataniya, 75 miles west of Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, said Abdul-Rahman al-Shimiri, the top government official in the area, and Iraqi army Capt. Mohammed Ahmed.

They said at least 30 homes were destroyed in the bombings.

Yazidis are members of an ancient, primarily Kurdish, religious sect that worships an angel figure that some Christians and Muslims believe to be the devil.

Dhakil Qassim, mayor of Sinjar, a town near the attacks, said al Qaeda in Iraq was behind the bombings, citing what he said were Kurdish government intelligence reports.

“This is a terrorist act and the people targeted are poor Yazidis who have nothing to do with the armed conflict,” Mr. Qassim said. “Al Qaeda fighters are very active in this area near the Syrian border.”

Witnesses also said U.S. helicopters swooped into the area to evacuate the wounded to hospitals in Dahuk, a Kurdish city near the Turkish border and about 60 miles north of Qahataniya.

Civilians’ cars and ambulances also were used to rush the wounded to hospitals in Dahuk, police said.

Ghassan Salim, a 40-year-old Yazidi teacher, said he went to a local hospital to donate blood after seeing lines of ambulances and cars carrying the wounded toward Sinjar hospital.

“We went to the hospital and the wounded told us about the attacks. I gave blood. I saw many maimed people with no legs or hands.

“Many of the wounded were left in the hospital garage or in the streets because the hospital is small,” he said.

As massive as yesterday’s truck bomb incidents were they were not alone in the reported bloodletting.

Four U.S. soldiers were reported killed in separate attacks — three in an explosion near their vehicle Monday in the northwestern Nineveh province and a fourth who died of wounds from combat in western Baghdad.

In a separate attack, a suicide truck bomber struck a strategic bridge on the main highway linking Baghdad with the northern city of Mosul, killing at least 10, police said.

The span was bombed three months ago and only one lane had reopened, according to the police officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

And in Baghdad, dozens of uniformed gunmen in 17 official vehicles stormed an Oil Ministry compound and abducted a deputy oil minister and three other officials, a ministry spokesman and police said.

The violence occurred as 16,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops began a new operation north of the Iraqi capital targeting insurgents who have fled a crackdown in the restive city of Baqouba, the military said yesterday.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the attacks on the Yazidis.

The Yazidi sect has been the target of attacks in the past, with the most violent coming after the stoning death in April of a Yazidi teenager who had converted to Islam after she eloped with a Muslim. Police said the 18-year-old woman was killed by relatives who disapproved of the match.

Two weeks later, gunmen fatally shot 23 Yazidis execution-style after stopping their bus and separating out followers of other faiths after checking their identification cards in what was thought to have been retaliation for the woman’s death.

The bodies of two Yazidi men who had been stoned to death also turned up in the morgue in the northern city of Kirkuk yesterday, six days after they had been kidnapped while they were en route to Baghdad to sell olives, police said.

The U.S. service members were killed when a CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed during a routine post-maintenance test flight near Taqaddum air base, according to a military statement and 1st Lt. Shawn Mercer, a Marine spokesman.

The air base is about 45 miles west of Baghdad in restive Anbar province, a Sunni insurgent stronghold that has become calmer in recent months as tribal leaders have joined forces against al Qaeda in Iraq.

In Baghdad, Abdel-Jabar al-Wagaa, the senior assistant to Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, was kidnapped by more than 50 gunmen wearing security forces uniforms and driving what were thought to be military vehicles, said Assem Jihad, the Oil Ministry spokesman.