Iraq bombs death toll rises to 400
Thursday August 16, 2007
The Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani. Photograph: AFP/Getty
The death toll from Tuesday’s huge suicide bombings in north-western Iraq has risen to at least 400, according to a government spokesman.More victims of the attacks – the bloodiest atrocity since the US-led invasion of the country in 2003 – have been pulled from neighbourhoods of collapsed mud homes.
The areas were destroyed when suspected Islamist extremists targeted members of the Yezidis, a Kurdish-speaking pre-Muslim sect, in Nineveh province.
“Their aim is to annihilate us, to create trouble and kill all the Yezidis because we are not Muslims,” Abu Saeed, a resident of one of the devastated areas, told Reuters.
Mr Saeed told the deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, who made a short tour of the devastated neighbourhood, that 51 members of his extended family had been killed.
Around 100 angry Yezidi men gathered as Mr Salih met local officials. “It’s like a nuclear site, the site of a nuclear bomb,” Mr Salih, a Kurd, told Reuters.
Suicide bombers detonated explosives rigged to fuel tankers in three remote Yezidi villages. A spokesman for the interior ministry today said two tonnes of explosives had been used in the blasts.
Earlier, local officials had said as many as 500 people had been killed, adding that rescuers were still looking for bodies.
The commander of US forces in northern Iraq, Major General Benjamin Mixon, described the attack as “ethnic cleansing”. It remained unclear whether US plans to reduce troops levels in Nineveh would go ahead.
The grim rescue operation continued as political leaders unveiled a new governing coalition between moderate Shia Muslims and Kurds after intensive negotiations in Baghdad.
The prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said he hoped the alliance, which commands a parliamentary majority, would address charges that his government was biased towards Shias and had been ineffective at clamping down on terrorism.
However, the coalition is unlikely to heal Iraq’s key religious fault line because it excludes even moderate Sunni Muslims.
Iraq’s Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashemi, and his moderate Iraqi Islamic party refused to join despite assurances from the country’s Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, that the door was “always open”.
Mr Talabani, Mr Maliki and Massoud Barzani, the leader of the northern autonomous Kurdish region, along with Adel Abdul-Mahdi, the Shia vice-president, announced the deal at a news conference today.
It guarantees them a majority in the 275-seat parliament, enabling the coalition to push through legislation demanded by the US, including a law on the distribution of oil wealth.
The deal was announced after the Sunni Accordance Front – which includes Mr Hashemi’s party – resigned from the government.
Seventeen government ministers, almost half of the cabinet, have either suspended work or left this year.
“We have relegated efforts to topple the government to the past,” a spokesman for the prime minister said. “We are now in a new stage.”
A representative of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic party said it had only received the invitation to join the coalition yesterday. “We said we are not ready to join this alliance at the current time,” he added.
Elsewhere, US forces said they had killed six insurgents they claimed were linked to al-Qaeda, as well as detaining 26 others during a week-long offensive around 50 miles north of Baghdad. Two US troops were killed.