- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006

KIRKUK, Iraq — Six bombs killed at least 24 persons and wounded 84 yesterday in Kirkuk, a northern oil city that the Kurds want added to their self-ruled region. The violence came as politicians argued over federation legislation that a Sunni Arab party warned could tear Iraq apart.

The tortured bodies of 15 persons were found elsewhere, probable victims of worsening sectarian reprisals, and the U.S. military announced that a sailor assigned to the Marines died Saturday from wounds suffered during combat in Anbar province.

A joint U.S.-Iraq operation in Diwaniyah rounded up 32 terror suspects. The city, 80 miles south of Baghdad, was the site of a recent clash between the mostly Shi’ite Iraqi army and a Shi’ite militia, which killed 23 soldiers and 50 others.

There was no indication of who was behind the bombings in Kirkuk, a city that lies in the center of Iraq’s vast northern oil fields and is the subject of rival claims by the region’s Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen.

The worst assault involved a suicide truck bomb that exploded in the city center, killing 18 and wounding 55. A few hours later, a suicide car bomb rammed into a joint U.S.-Iraq army patrol in the south of the city, killing at least three bystanders and wounding eight persons.

Two roadside bombs and two parked car bombs went off in other parts of the city, killing three civilians and wounding 21 persons, including two policemen and four soldiers.

In the biggest bombing, a man in the truck also fired on civilians before the vehicle exploded near Kirkuk’s criminal court and the headquarters of the two main Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, police said.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is headed by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party is led by the president of the autonomous Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani.

Mr. Barzani angered many Iraqis on Sept. 1, when he ordered that the national flag be replaced by the Kurdish banner on all government buildings in the self-ruled zone. Sunni Arabs, in particular, fear the Kurds will use a federal system to push for full secession.

Thousands of Kurds were forced to flee the Kirkuk area during dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, which pursued an “Arabization” campaign to force out ethnic Kurds and Turkomen. Kurds now want to incorporate Kirkuk into their autonomous region, an idea that has been caught up in a heated debate over a proposal to transform Iraq into a federate state.

The second-largest Sunni Arab party, the National Dialogue Front, yesterday rejected proposed legislation to pave the way for a federal system, arguing that would result in the division of the country.

“The National Dialogue Front totally rejects all kinds of partitioning schemes such as the federal regions project and the changing of the Iraqi flag,” the group said.

The idea of federalism is enshrined in the Iraqi constitution adopted last fall, but before it can be implemented, the mechanics have to be legislated and approved in a national referendum.

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