Suicide Attacks in Arbil kill dozens

Two suicide bomb attacks in Arbil kill at least 140, wound more than 200. Among the dead are Sami Abdulrahman, a man I considered a friend. Why is this still happening?

An exterior view shows a destroyed wall in the office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in the town of Arbil, some 400 km north of Iraqi capital Baghdad on Sunday. REUTERS/Namir Noor-Eldin

Two suicide bombers attacked the offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Arbil, the seat of the Iraqi Kurdistan parliament, today, killing dozens and wounding more than 200.
Reports vary as to the number of dead, with some reports putting the number at 56, others 70 and still others at 100 or more. This is the worst bombing since the August “attack on the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf”:, which killed more than 100 people, including Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, a key Shi’a cleric and then-head of SCIRI.
Among the dead are:

  • Sami Abdulrahman, Deputy Prime Minister KRG, politbureau Secretary, KDP
  • Shawkat Shekh Yezdin, Coordination Minister, KRG, Central Committee Member, KDP
  • Sa’d Abdulla, politbureau Member, Head of Branch 2, KDP
  • Mehmmod Halo, Deputy Finance Minister, KDP
  • Akram Mentik, Governor of Arbil, KDP
  • Mehdi Khoshnaw, Deputy Governor of Arbil, KDP
  • Ahmad Rojbeyani, Head of Administration of the City of Arbil, KDP
  • Neriman Abdul-Hamid, Head of Police in Arbil
  • Shakhewan Abbas, Leadership Member, PUK
  • Khasro Shera, Leadership Member, PUK

At a news conference in Sofia, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, a Kurd, blamed the attacks on the al Qaeda network or its allies.
Sami Abdulrahman, KDP deputy prime minister, in his offices in Arbil in July 2002. Christopher Allbritton ® 2002
“It was an attack by terrorists, al Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam,” he said. Several senior Kurdish officials have been targeted in assassination attempts in recent years, with the Kurds accusing Ansar as the culprit. Today’s attack has the hallmarks of Ansar, who killed Australian cameraman Paul Moran on March 22, 2003 at a roadside checkpoint near Suleimaniya. PUK Deputy Prime Minister Barhim Salih has also been narrowly escaped assassination.
Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador and expert on the Kurds, said the attacks would strengthen the hand of separatist Kurdish groups who want to break away from Iraq. He — and I — consider this a very bad idea. “It is too early to predict the fallout, but the bombings will strengthen those in the Kurdish movement who want to insulate Kurdistan physically and politically from the rest of Iraq,” Galbraith said.
The attacks came on Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, which is one of the holiest and most joyful holidays in the Islamic calendar. The suicide bombers apparently were able to get past security into the party headquarters because of lax security on the holiday.
On a personal note, I knew Sami Abdulraham. I met him in July 2002, and was intensely impressed with him. He was a hero to many in the KDP for his unwavering loyalty to the Barzani clan — first to the founder of the KDP, Mustafa Barzani, and then to his son, Massoud Barzani. He treated me with grace and hospitality, letting me have “drafts of the proposed constitutions for a Federal Republic of Iraq.”: He had written most of the drafts himself, hopeful even then for the future of his country and his people. I still have my last interview with him on tape. I considered him a friend.
Several members of Abdulrahman’s family were also killed, including a young member named Saleh, who was considered a rising star. A few family members have already been buried in Duhok in keeping with tradtion.
To all the Kurds and other Iraqis who have felt this loss, my sympathies to you all.
On a more critical note, what can be done to secure Iraq from this violence? Yesterday, 17 people, including three American GIs, died in three separate attacks. A car bomb in Mosul, mortars in Baghdad and an roadside bomb in Kirkuk. The insurgency or terrorists or whatever you want to call these killers are not confined to the “Sunni Triangle” as the Bush administration keeps insisting. The number of dead GIs for the month of January alone is 41, making it the second deadliest month of the occupation since President Bush declared Iraq a “Mission Accomplished” with the end of major combat operations on May 1. Wasn’t the “capture of Saddam Hussein”: supposed to end — or at least blunt — the attacks?
Some may consider that a cheap shot in light of today’s death toll, but a hard question remains: Why are soldiers and civilians dying in numbers greater than ever while the White House continues to insist “we’re making progress” against these killers? Iraqi Kurdistan is considered the safest part of Iraq, patrolled by _peshmergas_ and building on the burgeoning civil society the Kurds built in the last decade. What country can be considered secure when the safest part is attacked like this?