/ 7 July 2007

Suicide bomber kills over a hundred in Iraqi village

A suicide truck bomber ripped the heart out of a northern Iraqi village on Saturday, killing at least 105 people and demolishing dozens of homes and shops, police and medics said.

Ambulances and private cars ferried dozens of bloodied corpses and wounded civilians to clinics in the nearby town of Tuz Khurmatu and the provincial capital Kirkuk, where desperate relatives waited for news of the missing.

Officials were stunned by the scale of the blast, which devastated the main market in Emerli, a small rural community of people from Iraq’s Shi’ite Turkmen minority living in an area notorious for al-Qaeda militants.

”I heard the cries of my child, then I heard nothing else until I woke in hospital,” sobbed middle-aged housewife Sukaina Abdul Razak, whose clay brick home collapsed when the blast ripped through the village.

”I don’t know the fate of my husband and my family. They were all in the kitchen, but I was in my room,” she told Agence France-Presse (AFP) he was treated for head injuries in Kirkuk’s overcrowded emergency room.

Shrapnel from the blast killed shoppers hundreds of metres from its epicentre, wounded grocer Hussein Abu Al-Hussein Akbar Aziz said in Kirkuk.

”We have never seen an attack like that in Emerli. The whole village was shrouded in smoke and dust,” he said, grimacing from a leg injury. ”I was serving a woman and her child in my shop. They were both killed.”

Lieutenant Colonel Saman Hamid, commander of the security coordination centre in nearby Tuz Khurmatu, told AFP: ”105 Iraqis were killed and five are missing, we have registered their names. There are more than 250 wounded.”

The casualty toll was confirmed by Dr Wissam Abdullah, director of the main local hospital, who said the wounded had been taken to at least six emergency rooms up to 100km away around the the region.

The chief local civilian administrator, Hamad Rasheed, said he had seen reports that up to 125 people could be confirmed dead after rescuers finish digging through the rubble of dozens of buildings.

”The security reports that I have received from the scene confirm that 115 were killed, five are missing and around five more were collected as loose flesh. Some 40 homes, 20 shops and 10 vehicles were destroyed,” Rasheed said.

”The corpses were under the debris of the collapsed buildings. Some were burnt and others were torn apart. This is a big disaster for the town, all of the casualties were civilians,” he added.

Abdullah said the dead and wounded had been brought to the emergency room at his hospital in Tuz Khurmatu, to two hospitals in the provincial capital Kirkuk and two more as far away as the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah.

‘Heinous crime’

Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki said the ”heinous crime” confirmed that terrorists are the enemies of all Iraqis and showed that the attackers were ”desperate to break the noose that is closing in upon them”.

The attack was the deadliest since since April 18, when 190 people were killed in a spate of car bombings against Shiite districts of Baghdad.

Police Captain Nuzad Abdallah said the early morning attack occurred when the market was crowded with people. Three children were brought alive out of the debris but died before they could receive medical treatment.

Another car bomb attack against a military checkpoint in Baghdad killed at least three people and wounded 10, medics at the city’s Ibn Nafees hospital said. A defence official said up to six people could have been killed.

The bombings came as the US military announced the deaths of eight soldiers over the previous two days and the British of two, and against a backdrop of mounting domestic opposition to the international troop presence.

Iraq is in the grip of several overlapping conflicts between religious and political factions, but the suicide car bomb is a hallmark of Sunni extremists such as those affiliated with al-Qaeda or Ansar al-Sunna.

The attacks appear designed to foment sectarian and ethnic violence and undermine Maliki’s beleaguered coalition government, which works with US forces to quell the fighting but is struggling to find political reconciliation.

A so-called ”surge” in American troop numbers, bringing the total in Iraq to 155 000, has allowed commanders to take back control of parts of Baghdad and reduce violence in a belt of towns around the capital.

But there are signs that insurgent groups are shifting their focus farther north to avoid these operations, and US generals say that the increased troop levels will need to remain in place for many months.

This is likely to be a tough sell in Washington, where many lawmakers and most US voters have turned against President George Bush’s strategy of using US manpower to prop up Maliki’s government. – AFP