| Japanese and Dutch soldiers attend a luncheon with Iraqis to celebrate Id al-Adha in southern Iraq, on Sunday. (Reuters)
Arbil (Iraq), Feb. 1 (Reuters): Suicide bombers killed 56 people and wounded 200 today in twin attacks on Kurdish political parties aligned with US occupation forces in northern Iraq, medics and US army officials said.
A former government minister, the deputy governor of Arbil 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).
US Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt told a Baghdad news conference 56 people were killed when the bombers hit Muslim religious celebrations at the parties’ respective Arbil offices.
A PUK official said security might have been too lax on Id al-Adha (the feast of sacrifice), a sacred day in the Muslim calendar.
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 Arbil 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.
US deputy secretary of defence Paul Wolfowitz, on a visit to Baghdad, said people like the Arbil attackers would be defeated.
“They’re (extremists), not about Islam, they’re not about Muslims, they’re about their own fanatical view of the world and they will kill to try to advance it. But we are winning and they are losing,” he said.
In southwestern Iraq about 20 people trying to loot an ammunition dump were killed when the arms exploded, a spokesperson for the US-led multinational occupation force said.
Iraqi foreign minister Hoshiyar Zebari, a Kurd, blamed the Arbil attacks on the al Qaida network or its allies.
“It was an attack by terrorists, al Qaida and Ansar al-Islam,” he said. Several senior PUK officials have been targeted in assassination attempts in recent years, attacks they blamed on the Muslim militant Ansar al-Islam group.
Attackers killed at least 18 people in Iraq yesterday and US forces had been on alert ahead of the Id al-Adha holiday, given that guerrillas have often struck on significant dates against US troops and those seen as cooperating with them.
PUK official Qubad Talabani said security at the Arbil offices might have been too lax.
“This is a religious holiday so not many people were anticipating a terrorist attack by Islamic fundamentalists on an actual (Muslim) holy day for us,” he told CNN.
“So I can’t imagine people were being searched or anything going into this building. There was probably too much goodwill being shown by both the KDP and PUK security forces around the headquarters there.”
Fighters from the KDP and PUK fought alongside US soldiers in the war that ousted Saddam Hussein last year.
“The significance of this is devastating to the leadership of the Kurdish Democratic Party, one of the US’ biggest allies in the war,” US former diplomat Peter Galbraith said by telephone in Arbil.
About 20 people were killed in explosions today at an arms depot in southern Iraq, according to a Polish military spokesperson for the multinational force.
“They wanted to loot and steal ammunition from the bunker,” Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Strzelecki said, adding that no coalition soldiers were hurt in the blasts southwest of Karbala.
Large amounts of arms and unused ammunition have been found in Iraq by the US military and their coalition partners, who say it is impossible to guard all the depots.
A total of 365 US soldiers have been killed in action since the start of the war to oust Saddam last March.