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Bomb, ethnic flareup set Iraq ablaze

Baghdad, Aug. 24 (Reuters): A bomb blast killed three bodyguards in the office of one of Iraq’s main Shia groups today, a spokesperson for the group said, as ethnic violence flared between Kurds and Turkmen in the north.

The blast in the holy Shia city of Najaf and the ethnic clashes around Kirkuk stoked tensions in a country already grappling with lawlessness and a guerrilla insurgency.

In Baghdad, one of the main bridges over the Tigris river was closed after explosives were found planted there, Iraqi police said. The bridge is one of the main routes to the headquarters of the US-led administration.

The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is one of the main Shia parties in Iraq and is represented on the US-backed governing council, said it was the target of the bomb attack in Najaf.

Its spokesman said Ayatollah Mohammed Saeed al-Hakim, uncle of SCIRI leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, suffered very light wounds to the neck, and 10 other people were wounded in the blast near the sacred Imam Ali mosque.

“There was a strange man in the building outside his office. When someone went to see who it was, a bomb went off. Three security guards were killed,” he said.

Tensions have risen between rival Shia groups in Najaf since the US-led war ousted Saddam Hussein in April. Power struggles in the city play a key role in determining the political future of Iraq, which is mostly Shia.

The SCIRI has been criticised by some Iraqi Shias for cooperating with the US and accepting a seat on the governing council. Moqtada al Sadr, a rival Shia leader, has condemned the US occupation and refused to join the council.

In northern Iraq, fighting between Kurds and Turkmen has claimed at least 12 lives since Friday, local officials said.

The violence began on Friday in Tuz Khurmatu, south of Kirkuk. The mayor of Tuz Khurmatu said nine people were killed after Turkmen accused Kurds of defiling a Shia shrine.

Yesterday, officials said, three people were killed in clashes in Kirkuk, an ethnically divided city at the heart of Iraq’s richest oil reserves.

Abdel Rahman Mustafa, a Kurd whose appointment as governor of Kirkuk is resented by many Turkish-speaking Turkmen in the city, said he would investigate accusations that Kurdish police had opened fire unprovoked on protesters.

“Things are under control after some losses, which we regret,” he said at the municipal government building.

Both Kurds and Turkmen recount persecution in Kirkuk during the rule of Saddam Hussein, when many were expelled from the city and replaced with Arabs from other parts of the country in a bid to change Kirkuk’s ethnic make-up.

The Turkmen, whose presence in Iraq dates back to Ottoman rule, say they now face oppression by the Kurds, and accuse the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of inciting ethnic violence. Turkish newspapers blamed Kurdish ‘peshmerga’ fighters belonging to the PUK for the unrest.

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