Bombings kill 12 in Iraq, reflect depths of political, ethnic gulfs
BAGHDAD - Twelve people were killed in bombings in northern and western Iraq yesterday, including seven in a building used by a Sunni-backed political group in Diyala Province, police said.
The violence is a reflection of the deep political and ethnic divisions that remain in Iraq despite the security gains over the past 18 months.
Diyala experienced violence earlier this week when Iraqi security forces and an Iranian opposition group living in a camp in the province engaged in two days of clashes that left seven people dead.
Ali al-Dabbagh, government spokesman, confirmed yesterday that the seven were killed when Iraqi forces seized control of the Iranian group’s camp. The news followed two days of denials that anyone had been killed.
Police in western Iraq, meanwhile, said five people died and 39 were injured when a suicide bomber blew up his vehicle in Qaim, near the border with Syria. A police official said the bomber was targeting a police station, but concrete barriers prevented him from reaching it.
“There are many civilians under the rubble. Many houses were destroyed completely, and the police imposed a vehicle and motorcycle ban,’’ he said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the media.
Daily attacks have continued throughout Iraq, but the US military warns that the greatest threat to the country’s security is tension between the Kurdish-ruled north and the Arab-majority central government. The two sides have clashed over disputed oil and land in the north.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq will visit the capital of the semiautonomous Kurdish region, Irbil, on Sunday, a little over a week after the Kurds held important presidential and parliamentary elections, state TV reported.
Yesterday’s first blast hit Baqouba, the provincial seat of Diyala that lies northeast of Baghdad, killing at least seven and wounding 10 people, said Major Ghalib al-Karkhi, a spokesman for the Diyala police. Other police and hospital officials confirmed the toll.
The bomb was hidden inside a building used by the Reform and Development Movement, a Sunni-backed political group founded last year that won four seats in the last provincial council elections.
The bombing occurred amid heightened tensions in Camp Ashraf, where Iranian exiles belonging to the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran clashed with Iraqi police earlier this week. The group said hundreds of exiles were wounded and at least seven killed in the clashes. That claim was initially denied by the Iraqi government, but Dabbagh confirmed the death toll yesterday.
“We came to know . . . that seven people from Ashraf Camp have been killed. We have around 30 people from our police, they have been injured, some of them are in critical situation,’’ Dabbagh said.
The raid raised fears that Iraq’s government is readying to deport the thousands of camp residents as a friendly gesture to close ally Iran, which considers the exiles part of a terrorist organization.
About 3,500 former Iranian fighters and relatives live in the camp, first set up in 1986 when they helped Saddam Hussein in the Iraq-Iran war. After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, American troops disarmed the fighters and confined them to the camp.
The Americans handed over responsibility for the camp to the Iraqis to comply with a security agreement this year, but said they would maintain a force nearby to ensure humane treatment of the Iranians. Tensions rose as the Iraqi government stepped up efforts to get the group to leave the country.
A move to set up a police station inside the camp sparked riots by the exiles on Tuesday that police fought with water canon and batons. The clashes continued into Wednesday.
Dabbagh denied excessive force was used and said an investigation was under way into how the seven Iranians died.
He said the Iraqis found the bodies of two men shot in the back when they entered the camp.
He said they had the word “traitor’’ in Iran’s Farsi language written on their bodies, suggesting they had been killed by members of the group.
Dabbagh said the situation at Camp Ashraf was now stable and the police station has been set up inside the camp.
There was no word yesterday from camp residents that the tension had died down. Journalists have been refused entry to the camp, making it difficult to independently verify casualty numbers.