x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Insurgent shootings and bombs kill 12 in Iraq

Northern city of Kirkuk bore the brunt of the violence as three bombs in parked cars were detonated in two Kurdish residential areas.

BAGHDAD // Insurgents launched attacks against security forces and civilians in two parts of Iraq yesterday, killing at least 12 people and wounding dozens.

The attacks come a day after top security officials from the federal government and Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region reached an agreement aimed at easing tensions in disputed areas of northern Iraq, which the country's parliamentary speaker has warned could lead to civil war.

A main target was Kirkuk, a city in northern Iraq claimed by several ethnic groups in a dispute with the central government in Baghdad. The conflict is one of several that threaten the country's stability following the pullout of US military forces nearly a year ago.

Three bombs in parked cars exploded simultaneously in two Kurdish residential areas in the centre of the city, police said.

One went off near a main Kurdish party headquarters. Five people, including a Kurdish security guard, were killed and 58 others wounded.

A few minutes later, two bombs went off in a market in the Sunni-dominated town of Hawija, west of Kirkuk, killing two civilians and wounding five others. Also, five Iraqi army soldiers were wounded when militants detonated bombs near their houses in the nearby town of Tuz Khortmato.

Kirkuk, which is 290 kilometres north of Baghdad, is home to Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen, who all have competing claims to the oil-rich area. The Kurds want to incorporate it into their self-ruled region in Iraq's north, but Arabs and Turkomen are opposed.

Violence has ebbed since the peak of insurgency several years ago, but lethal attacks still occur frequently.

No one claimed responsibility for yesterday's attacks, but car bombs, shootings and roadside devices are the hallmark of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

In the north-eastern province of Diyala, men in a speeding car shot at a check point manned by Sahwa, an anti-Al Qaeda group, killing one and wounding two others, another police official said. The Sahwa are Sunni Arabs who joined forces with US military to fight Al Qaeda at the height of Iraq's insurgency problems. They have since been favourite targets for Sunni insurgents who consider them as traitors.

Also in Diyala, a roadside bomb targeted a passing police patrol in the town of Khan Bani Saad, killing a civilian bystander and wounding two policemen, the officer said. The town is about 35km north of Baghdad.

In the northern city of Mosul, a parked car bomb went off near a house of a Sunni parliamentarian, wounding five people. The MP, a woman, was unharmed, police said.

Five other civilians were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near an Iraqi military base in the town of Taji, 20 kilometres north of Baghdad, a police officer said.

Top federal and Kurdish security officials met on Monday, agreeing to continue with talks and on activating coordinating committees between their forces, and to work to calm the situation and look for mechanisms to withdraw military units mobilised during the increased tensions.

The parliamentary speaker, Osama Al Nujaifi, has been holding talks since November 21 with political leaders in Baghdad and Kurdistan in an attempt to reduce tensions.

Kurdistan wants to incorporate a swath of territory in northern Iraq over Baghdad's strong objections, a dispute that diplomats and officials say is the biggest threat to Iraq's long-term stability.

Ties between the two sides are also marred by disputes over oil and power-sharing.

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse