Thursday, December 11, 2008

US War Update: At Least 45 People Killed in Iraqi Blasts

Thursday, December 11, 2008
17:26 Mecca time, 14:26 GMT

Scores die in Iraq suicide blast

Many children were among those hurt in the restaurant bombing

A suicide bomber has killed at least 45 people in a Kurdish restaurant, about 5km north of the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq.

Nearly 100 people were also wounded in the explosion on Thursday, police said.

Iraqi and US security forces have sealed off the area.

The bombing near the ethniclly mixed city came during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

The restaurant was full of people eating lunch, with more people present than usual due to the four-day holiday, Jamal Tahir, police chief of Kirkuk, said.

"Among the dead are women and children as the bomber blew himself up inside the family section," Ahmad Saleh, an Iraqi journalist who was near the scene of the blast, told Al Jazeera.

"The restaurant is a very popular one and has many foreign workers. Government officials also go there frequently," he said.

Ethnic tensions

Kurdish official said Arab tribal leaders were in the restaurant at the time of the attack, having lunch with members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party of Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi president.

They were due to attend a meeting with Talabani after the lunch to discuss ways to defuse tensions among Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen in the Kirkuk area.

The reason behind Thursday's bombing was not immediately clear.

Kirkuk, the centre of Iraq's northern oil fields, has seen fewer attacks than other regions in Iraq but remains the focus of years of competition and political wrangling among ethnic groups, including Arabs and Kurds, with rival claims to the city.

Both groups want control Kirkuk, the Kurds as part of a breakaway territory with the surrounding Tamim province and their own self-ruled region in northern Iraq.

The Abdullah restaurant where the attack occured is on the main road from Irbil to Kirkuk and is popular with Kurdish officials moving to and from the nearby Kurdish region.

It is affiliated with another Kurdish restaurant of the same name which was attacked by a car bomb in 2007. Six people died due to that blast.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Blackwater guards 'used grenades'

US guards indicted over the 2007 fatal shooting of 17 Iraqis used machine guns and grenade launchers against unarmed civilians, prosecutors have said.

The guards, from the US security firm Blackwater, were contracted to defend US diplomats. The firm says its guards acted in self-defence.

The five men are charged with 14 counts of manslaughter, as well as weapons violations and attempted manslaughter.

A sixth guard has pleaded guilty to killing at least one Iraqi.

The Iraqi government has welcomed the move to hold "criminals accountable".

The killings, which took place in Nisoor Square, Baghdad, have become a central issue in Iraq's relationship with the US and raised questions about the oversight of US contractors operating in war zones.

Witnesses and family members maintain that the shooting on 16 September 2007 was unprovoked.

'Politically motivated'

Although the indictment was made in Washington, the men surrendered at a federal courthouse in Salt Lake City, Utah, the home state of one of the five guards, Donald Ball.

That way the men could argue that the case should be heard in Utah, considered more conservative and pro-gun than Washington, AP said.

"Donald Ball committed no crime," said his lawyer, Steven McCool. "We are confident that any jury will see this for what it is: a politically-motivated prosecution to appease the Iraqi government."

Defence lawyers are expected to file a series of challenges before the guards can even go to trial.

"The killers must pay for their crime against innocent civilians. Justice must be achieved so that we can have rest from the agony we are living in," said Khalid Ibrahim, 40, who said his 78-year-old father, Ibrahim Abid, died in the shooting.

"We know that the conviction of the people behind the shooting will not bring my father to life, but we will have peace in our minds and hearts," he told AP.

The New York Times has previously reported that an FBI investigation had concluded that 14 of the deaths at the busy Baghdad intersection were unjustified.

Young children were among the victims.

As well as Mr Ball, the other men indicted are Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nick Slatten and Paul Slough.

On top of the 14 counts of manslaughter, they face 20 counts of attempted manslaughter, as well as using a machine gun to commit a crime of violence, a charge that carries a 30-year minimum sentence.

A sixth Blackwater employee, Jeremy Ridgeway, agreed to a plea deal in return for testifying against his colleagues, AP reported, adding that the indicted men are decorated military veterans.

Contractor conditions

The problem of private armed guards in Iraq remains unresolved, mainly because they continue to provide security for the many American and other foreign officials in the country.

US law is unclear on whether contractors can be charged in the US or anywhere else for crimes committed overseas.

In October 2007, the Iraqi government approved a draft law revoking the immunity from prosecution that private security contractors enjoyed under Iraqi law.

The US has since put in place new guidelines for security contractors.

Based at a vast ranch complex in North Carolina, Blackwater is one of the main private providers of security within Iraq, and its contract there was extended in April.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/12/08 19:35:48 GMT

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