Restaurant bombing rocks Iraqi city’s relative peace
By HEATH DRUZIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 7, 2009
BAQOUBA, Iraq — The suicide bombing that killed at least 14 people at a restaurant in Khanaqin shattered the calm in a city that, while the subject of ethnic dispute, had enjoyed relative peace in recent months.
Khanaqin is the largest city in an area of northeast Diyala province, claimed by both Kurds and Arabs, that abuts the semi-autonomous Kurdish zone. A long-planned referendum to decide the political fate of that area, as well as parts of Kirkuk and Ninevah provinces remains in limbo.
The bomber struck around 2 p.m., and at least one Iraqi police officer was among those killed, according to the U.S. military, which sent an explosive ordinance team to the scene to assist Iraqi security forces. Twelve people were injured.
Before the bombing, Khanaqin, a bustling city of about 100,000 people, had been relatively free of violence. Its mixed Kurdish-Arab population mingles freely in the streets in contrast to many strictly segregated Sunni and Shia neighborhoods in Baghdad and other cities. Kurds and Arabs in other nearby towns, however, have a much more standoffish relationship.
American military commanders in the area would not comment on who they believe is responsible for the bombing, any planned U.S. response, or what it might mean for fragile relations between Kurds and Arabs.
Tension was high during recent provincial elections, with both Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi army soldiers descending on Khanaqin and nearby towns, but no violence was reported on election day. U.S. soldiers worked as mediators to keep the two sides from clashing, hammering out an agreement to place equal numbers of troops from each army at checkpoints in the area during the election.
Officials say both armies have now left the area, as agreed upon.
Iraqi army and Peshmerga soldiers regularly take up positions around Khanaqin, often across the road from each other, and last summer those armies had a tense standoff as the Iraqi central government and Kurdish Regional Government jockeyed for control of the area.