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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 February, 2004, 00:30 GMT
Iraq attacks stir Kurdish fears

By Barbara Plett
BBC correspondent in Irbil

Long after the bodies were buried, Kurdish officials and ordinary citizens continue to pay their respects, praying at the mosque in a national act of mourning and visiting the wreckage of the party offices.

Many saw Sunday's suicide attacks, which left at least 67 dead, as another atrocity for a people who have experienced more than their fair share.

The suicide bombers blew themselves up at the meeting halls of the two main Kurdish movements - the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

They struck as visitors crowded the offices to extend greetings to senior officials for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

'Slaughter house'

On Monday, the smell of blood hung thick in the air over the silent ruins.

Kurdish mourners
The attacks dealt a blow to the Kurdish community
Guards covered their noses with jackets and handkerchiefs, stepping over blood smears on the floor; there were stains, also, on the overturned sofas and on the mangled ceiling fans.

In the midst of the debris lay eerie reminders of the celebration the bombers interrupted - candies and plastic flowers.

"I've never seen anything like it, it looked like a slaughter house," said one guard.

"Until now, the bombs in Iraq have come in cars, not on people. We checked the cars but were told not to check the people because of the holiday."

After the shock, the meaning of the attacks began to sink in.

First, the political loss: mourners said some of those killed were veterans of the struggle against Saddam Hussein and leaders in establishing the Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq.

Then, the lessons. "I hope this will be a strong message to [the KDP and the PUK] to unite the administration," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the Iraqi Governing Council.

"We don't need two administrations in Kurdistan, we need one. They should co-operate more. They should know enemies are targeting both of them at the same time, so I hope that they will get the lesson."

Drive for independence

Mr Othman said the Kurds were probably attacked because they are close and powerful allies of the occupation forces - the resistance has been striking those it views as collaborators.

These attacks not only strengthen our demands for independence, they force us to make it a reality
Iraqi Kurd
He also insisted that a future Iraq must contain international and constitutional guarantees to protect the Kurds' rights as citizens and as a nation.

Others, though, questioned whether they wanted to be part of the new Iraq at all.

The suicide bombings reminded them of how much the Kurds have suffered at the hands of Arabs and other regional powers.

"These attacks not only strengthen our demands for independence, they force us to make it a reality," said one resident of Irbil.

"They show there can be no unity with Iraqi Arabs or any other ethnicity in Iraq."

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