At least 200 people were killed yesterday when powerful truck bombs exploded in two villages adjacent to Iraq's northern Kurdish region along the Syrian border. The victims were members of the Yizidi community, a minority religious sect that local Muslims consider to be "devil worshipers." At least one of the villages was virtually destroyed in the blast, as most of its dwellings were made of clay. Bodies littered the ground, and more than 200 wounded were rushed to six area hospitals. The attack was among the deadliest in Iraq this year.
A spokesman for the Kurdish regional government told reporters that the Kurdish peshmerga might have been able to prevent the bombings, but is forbidden from operating in the Yizidi area by the central government in Baghdad. According to the BBC:
Tensions between the Yazidi sect and local Muslims have grown since a Yazidi girl was reportedly stoned by her community in April for converting to Islam.
The sect is due to vote later alongside other Kurds outside the Kurdish autonomous region in a referendum on joining the grouping.
Correspondents say the planned referendum makes northern Iraq's Kurds a target for politically-motivated attacks.
Sunni extremists are thought to be responsible for yesterday's bombings. From Juan Cole's Informed Comment:
The operation resembled the horrific bombing of the Shiite Turkmen of Armili on July 2. Note that first Shiite Turkmen were targeted and now Kurdish Yazidis. They have in common not being Sunni Arabs. My suspicion is that these bombings are not just an attempt to spread fear and intimidation, but are actually part of a struggle for control of territory. The Sunni Arab guerrillas face powerful challenges from Kurds and Shiites with regard to the future of provinces such as Ninevah, Diyala and Kirkuk. A lot of Kurdish police and troops have been deployed in Mosul not far from Tuesday's bombings, and they are seen as among the deadliest enemies by the Sunni Arab guerrillas. Sooner or later, my guess is that the Sunni Arabs will wage a major war with the Kurds over the oil fields of Kirkuk.
Attacks like this one in northern Iraq only strengthen the Kurds' conviction that there is little to be gained from associating themselves with Iraq's central government... and perhaps even more to be lost by doing so. The chaos and violence that reigns in Baghdad appears to be spreading to previously quiet areas. The "surge" is responsible for at least some of this. Rather than packing it in under increased U.S. pressure, insurgent groups have begun to select easier targets in other parts of the country. After all, what better way to antagonize the Kurds into fighting a civil war than to attack them on their own ground?
Speaking of the surge, here's Time's Matthew Yeomans:
The U.S. Army Chief of Staff says the troop surge is working, however. Gen. George Casey—who is a former U.S. commander in Iraq—told reporters yesterday he saw clear "progress on the security front" during his weekend visit to Iraq. "As complex and as difficult and as confusing as you may find Iraq ... we can succeed there," he said. "And we will succeed there if we demonstrate patience and will." But he said he didn't know when the Army might be able to cut soldiers' tours of duty back to 12 months from 15.
What he did say, though, was that deployments longer than the current 15 months would "put our soldiers at a level of stress and a level of risk that I'm right now not comfortable with." The surge can only be maintained by extending tours to 18 months. So, it looks like no matter what happens in the political debate over a potential drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq, the soldiers are going to start coming home no matter what.