Suicide bomber strikes police centre

A suicide bomber ripped through an Iraqi police recruitment centre in the northern Kurdish city of Arbil on Wednesday, killing 45 and wounding up to 100 a day after Iraq’s first democratic Cabinet was sworn in.

Scenes of chaos filled the streets as ambulances evacuated the dead and injured from the compound, which was also an office for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), one of the two main Kurdish factions in Iraq.

“A suicide bomber entered the recruiting centre and blew himself up, killing 45 people and wounding 95,” said Nawzad Hadi, governor of Arbil province.

“We will continue fighting terrorists until we root them out. They will not scare us,” he added.

The attack in Arbil, the fiefdom of the KDP of Massoud Barzani, came three days after a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden ambulance into a funeral for a KDP official in the northern town of Tall Afar, killing 25 and wounding scores.

The Arbil bombing was one of the deadliest since the January 30 elections, after anti-Shi’ite attacks that left more than 100 dead in the southern city of Hilla in February and 51 a month later in the northern city of Mosul.

It marred the swearing-in a day earlier of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari’s Cabinet, Iraq’s first democratically elected government in half a century.

The ceremony had already been overshadowed by the fact that the line-up was still incomplete, prompting intense bickering between Shi’ites and Sunni Arabs that threatened to sink a “national unity” government before it set sail.

Vice-President Ghazi al-Yawar, a Sunni tribal leader, was noticeably absent from Tuesday’s ceremony after Shi’ites rejected the names his committee put forward to join the coalition government.

Sunni Arabs were dominant under the regime of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

“Formation of the government is very important, but we said if the candidates from the Sunni side were not approved, we will not participate in the swearing-in,” said Ahmed Najadi, Yawar’s secretary. “Either all of the Sunni ministers go together, or they don’t go.”

Jaafari said the delay had been caused by differences within the former ruling minority over the post of defence minister.

“There are differences among our Sunni Arab brothers and we did not want to rush the matter for the choice to be satisfactory and acceptable to all Iraqis, especially the Sunnis,” he said.

Jaafari said several candidates are being considered for the defence post and predicted that Sunni Arabs will agree on a name “in two or three days”.

The Sunni Arabs fear a government dominated by Shi’ites and Kurds—two communities oppressed by Saddam’s regime—would pursue an aggressive agenda to remove them from the country’s institutions and security forces.

But Jaafari made a conciliatory inaugural speech and pledged to build “a new Iraq”.
He appealed to those who supported the former regime to engage “in dialogue instead of terror and killing”.

In New York, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer said an Australian contractor held hostage by militants in Iraq has serious health problems and appealed for his release.

The minister spoke after appearing on the Al-Jazeera network to urge the release of 63-year-old Douglas Wood.

“I made the point in the interview with Al-Jazeera that Douglas Wood is not a well man. He has a very serious heart condition, he has a problem with one of his eyes as well,” Downer told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.

Since Jaafari announced his partial line-up on April 28, insurgents have stepped up attacks and bombings, leaving more than 200 people dead, both civilians and members of security forces.

The United States military said on Wednesday that two of its soldiers had been killed in separate bomb explosions in Baghdad on Tuesday, bringing to 1 583 the number of US troops who have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, according to a tally based on the latest Pentagon figures.

The US military also reported that it had found the body of a pilot who went missing when contact was lost with two US jets overnight. Searches continued for the other pilot.

Meanwhile, support for the Iraq war among Americans has dropped to 41%, the lowest level since the US-led invasion toppled Saddam, according to a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll.

Fifty-seven percent of the 514 people surveyed thought the Iraq war is not worth the fight, against only 41% who said it is.—Sapa-AFP

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