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August 24, 2003

Ethnic fighting spreads in Iraq


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Rocket-propelled grenades were fired at statues of two Turkomen heroes as ethnic fighting spread to the northern city of Kirkuk and police tried to maintain order in a nearby town.

Gunfire echoed through Kirkuk Saturday night, and squads of police were stationed at each of the statues after the attacks. There was no indication of who was shooting or any sign of U.S. forces.

"We're worried about the situation, but we are working with city leaders and officials to resolve it," said Lt. Jonathan Hopkins of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Earlier, Kirkuk Mayor Abdul Rahman Mustafa, a Kurd, told the AP two people were killed and several were wounded. He did not identify the victims' by ethnicity.

According to both CNN-Turk television and private NTV television in Ankara, Turkey, hundreds of Turkomen, carrying blue Turkomen flags, marched on the governor's office. Turkey's Anatolia news agency reported two Turkomen were shot and killed and 11 wounded by Patriotic Union of Kurdistan forces.

The violence in Kirkuk, 150 miles north of Baghdad, followed fighting between Turkomen and Kurds on Friday in nearby Tuz Kharmato. Iraqi police killed two Turkomen tribesmen and wounded two others in Tuz Kharmato after they arrived to quell ethnic fighting, said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, 4th Infantry Division spokeswoman.

She had originally reported that it was U.S. soldiers who fired on the crowd, but on Sunday said it was Iraqi police who had been sent to quell the protests and the U.S. soldiers arrived after the incident.

"They were nervous and they panicked and fired warning shots into the crowd, which killed two and wounded two," Aberle said Sunday. The policemen were taken into U.S. military custody and an investigation was underway, she said.

Despite continuing violence, sabotage and terror attacks-- including this week's suicide bombing of U.N. headquarters-- the American administrator for Iraq said the U.S.-led coalition would not slow efforts to rebuild the country, shattered by war and 13 years of U.N. sanctions.

"We have never hidden the fact that we have security problems in Iraq," L. Paul Bremer told reporters Saturday.

Also in Baghdad, U.N. workers who had not left Iraq after Tuesday's attack resumed work in a cluster of tents set up at the battered Canal Hotel compound, former home of U.N. offices.

Investigators and soldiers searched piles of debris for human remains and clues in the truck bombing that killed at least 23 people, including top U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, whose memorial was held Saturday in his native Brazil.

One of the envoy's dying wishes was for the United Nations to remain in Iraq and continue work to establish democracy, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told mourners.

"Let us respect that," Annan said. "Let Sergio, who has given his life in that cause, find a fitting memorial in a free and sovereign Iraq."

Back at work, U.N. staff embraced each other. Computers and office equipment were moved into portable, air-conditioned offices flown in from Italy and set up beside the tents.

"We are moving forward," Ramiro Lopes da Silva said on his first day on the job as acting head of the U.N.'s Iraq mission. The Portuguese diplomat's right hand, forehead and ear were bandaged from the blast.

Bremer said it was too early to speculate on who carried out the bombing.

Addressing reports that he and the Iraqi Governing Council were increasingly at odds, Bremer said there was concern inside the council over the coalition's inability to fully restore electricity, which has angered many Iraqi people. Bremer established the 25-member council as an interim government, though it has little real power.

"They share our frustration with not being able to restore essential services to prewar levels," Bremer said, noting the coalition set an end-of-September goal for getting the lights back on permanently.

Bremer also said he had encouraged the council to reach out to Iraqis to join in the reconstruction and security of their country.

In Basra, the British military said a two-vehicle convoy was attacked by gunmen in a pickup truck as the soldiers traveled through the city center on a patrol about 8:30 a.m.

As of Saturday, the British government has reported 48 deaths since the war began. The American military says 273 U.S. soldiers have died since the beginning of military operations. Denmark's military has reported one death.

On or since May 1, when President Bush declared major combat operations over, 135 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq, according to the latest military figures. Counting only combat deaths, 65 Americans and 11 Britons have died since the Bush declaration.

Eighty-six U.N. workers who were wounded in Tuesday's bombing were airlifted out for medical care.

Two U.N. employees were still unaccounted for and an unknown number of people-- visitors to the building-- remained buried in the rubble. The U.N. official death toll was 20, but checks of area hospitals by The Associated Press showed at least 23 died in the blast.

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