BAGHDAD, 2 February 2004 — Two suicide bombers targeted the offices of Kurdish political parties in northern Iraq yesterday, killing 56 people. At least 235 people were wounded as the bombers detonated explosives strapped to their bodies as hundreds gathered to celebrate Eid Al-Adha in Irbil.
A former government minister, the deputy governor of Irbil province and the city’s police chief were among those killed at offices of northern Iraq’s main political groups, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
One Kurdish minister said the death toll could exceed 100.
The attacks occurred as party leaders were receiving hundreds of visitors to mark the start of Eid. Security guards for both parties said they did not search people entering for the ceremony because of the tradition of receiving guests during the Eid festivities.
Lying on bloodstained sheets in hospital, Idris Ahmed of the PUK said the feast had been intended to unite Iraqis. “We will fight terrorism and the terrorists who carried out this explosion,” he said, his face badly burned.
A US ex-diplomat in Irbil said Sami Abdul-Rahman, a Baghdad minister in the early 1970s, a former regional deputy prime minister and a senior KDP negotiator on the proposed Iraqi constitution, was among those killed.
The attack was believed to be the deadliest since an Aug. 29 car bombing in Najaf killed Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir Al-Hakim and more than 100 others as they emerged from Friday prayers. It was also believed to have been the first in which the suicide attackers wired bombs to themselves and detonated them while on foot. The blast came as Kurdish leaders are pressing to retain or even expand the Kurds’ self-rule region in the north under any new Iraqi government. The demand has raised tensions with Sunni Arabs in central Iraq, and the attack could increase those divisions.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. However, a radical Kurdish group, Ansar Al-Islam, operates in the Kurdish region and has been linked by US officials to Al-Qaeda.
Also yesterday, at least six Iraqis were killed when they accidentally set off an explosion while looting a former Iraqi munitions dump in the Polish-controlled south-central region of the country, a spokesman for Polish-led international peacekeepers said. The Poles initially said about 20 looters were killed in the nighttime blast in the desert about 180 km (112 miles) southwest of Karbala.
US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, visiting Baghdad, said the bombings showed the inhumanity of those responsible. “They are not about Islam,” Wolfowitz said. “They’re not about Muslims. They’re about their own fanatical view of the world, and they will kill to try to advance it.”
— Additional input from agencies