Iraq violence kills at least 40 as Kurdish chief takes oath
KIRKUK, Iraq, June 15 (AFP) - 3h57 - Iraqi violence killed at least 40 people as Kurds in the autonomous north swore in former rebel leader Massoud Barzani as their first president.
The US military said a rocket-propelled grenade killed one soldier and wounded two more in Baghdad, bringing US military deaths since the 2003 invasion to 1,698, according to an AFP tally based on Pentagon figures.
In the deadliest attack Tuesday, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of civil servants waiting for paychecks at a branch of Al-Rafidain bank in the northern oil city of Kirkuk, killing at least 20 people, police said. Another 81 were wounded.
A statement posted on the internet in the name of the Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sunna group said it carried out the attack against the "infidel" police.
It warned potential recruits: "We will follow you everywhere, whether you are wearing military fatigues or civilian clothes."
The bombers struck shortly before Barzani was sworn in as Kurdish president in nearby Arbil and targeted a bitterly contested city that the Kurds want as capital of an expanded autonomous region.
North of Baghdad, another car bomb killed 10 more Iraqis, including two children, and wounded seven, security and hospital sources said.
Troops had been called in to reinforce a police station in the town of Kanaan that was under mortar attack, a police officer said. They were hit by the car bomb parked nearby.
Near Ramadi, US troops killed five Iraqi civilians and wounded four others Tuesday, believing their car to be a bomb, a US military statement said.
The deaths followed a car bomb attack at their military checkpoint that had killed an Iraqi soldier and wounded another, it added.
"Regrettably, there were five civilians killed and four wounded as a result of their vehicles’ charging the entry control point."
In the northern city of Arbil, Barzani, son of the Kurdish nationalist hero Mullah Mustafa Barzani, was sworn in as president before the 111-member regional assembly.
"I promise to safeguard the accomplishments of Kurdistan and to carry out my duties faithfully," Barzani told the gathering, which included Iraq President Jalal Talabani, who headed a rival Kurdish rebel group.
A giant portrait of Barzani’s father watched over the assembly, flanked by red, white, yellow and green Kurdish flags.
In Baghdad, an Iraqi court set up to try Saddam Hussein promised to release more footage of the questioning of the ousted president and his top aides. A video released on Monday showed him answering questions.
But a leading lawyer charged that the video release was politically motivated.
"The current charged political climate makes it imperative to comfort people that Saddam will not come back and that his trial is ongoing," said Abdul Majid al-Sabawi, professor of law at Baghdad’s Mustansiryah university.
The bearded, seemingly weary Saddam was questioned about the 1982 killing of 143 residents of Dujail, a Shiite village northeast of Baghdad.
Saddam, who has been in US custody since his capture in December 2003, is accused of ordering revenge murders after villagers there allegedly tried to assassinate him.
He is also accused of a litany of other crimes agaist humanity and could face the death penalty if convicted.
The White House meanwhile spurned calls for a timetable for pulling out the 130,000 US troops in Iraq.
Opposition Democratic Senator Russ Feingold introduced a resolution Tuesday calling for a timetable by which the US administration reaches its military objectives in Iraq and withdraws US troops.
A new poll showed almost six in 10 Americans want at least some of the troops to leave.
In Kuala Lumpur, Iraq unveiled a 10-year plan to more than triple oil production to six million barrels per day by 2015, saying it would need 20 billion dollars in foreign investment to do so.
Recruitment agencies in Manila said more than 2,000 Filipinos had slipped into Iraq to work for US military camps despite a Philippine government ban imposed last year.
The New York Times reported that despite denials, UN chief Kofi Annan was apparently told of efforts by his son’s employer to win an oil-for-food contract with Iraq in 1998, according to a memo written by a company executive.
And Annan has urged US-led forces in Iraq to help the new Baghdad government search for Kuwait’s lost national archives, plundered by Iraq after the 1990 invasion of its neighbor.
Meanwhile, Florence Aubenas, the French journalist released in Iraq Sunday after more than five months in captivity, told fellow reporters she had been kept in a tiny basement with virtually no room to move.
Romanian Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu confirmed in an interview on French television late Tuesday that his country’s secret services had worked to free Aubenas and her Iraqi translator Hussein Hanun.
Sources in Bucharest said that Communist-era spies, called back into service by the Romanian government, had helped France negotiate the release.