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Blast in Northern Iraq Claims Many Lives

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

The news from Iraq is often bleak, but this was an especially dark day. A truck bomb in a northern town claimed more than 100 lives. Some 150 other people were wounded.

NPR's John Burnett is following this and other developments from our Baghdad bureau. John, what can you tell us about today's attack?

JOHN BURNETT: Well, Debbie, it happened at 8:30 this morning. There was a truck filled with explosives that blew up in a crowded outdoor market in an agricultural town called Armili, about a hundred miles north of Baghdad, about 50 miles south of the city of Kirkuk.

Authorities say that several mud houses and businesses were destroyed and the television pictures showed scores of men in the streets, loading makeshifts stretchers of bloodied bodies into ambulances. And there were farmers reportedly carrying injured Iraqis in their trucks, 30 miles away to the nearest hospital.

This is a remote area that hasn't had the same level of violence that other conflicted areas of the country have, where the insurgents and the death squads have been more active. What we do know about this town is that it's mainly populated with Shiite ethnic Turks who are a minority.

The Associated Press quotes residents of Armili where the truck exploded, is saying "there was bad blood between the Turkmen in their town and Sunni-Arabs living in the surrounding villages."

ELLIOTT: Now, there were also reports today from the U.S. military of more than American deaths. Where did those occur?

BURNETT: Right. The U.S. military reported there were two soldiers killed and two wounded yesterday by an improvised explosive device. They were on a walking patrol in an area south of Baghdad and on - same day yesterday, two other soldiers died in east Baghdad and then three were injured, again from an IED that blew up their combat patrol. Both patrols are part of a U.S. offensive or a surge to bring more security to the violent areas of the country.

ELLIOTT: John, the Iraqi parliamentary has been working on a new oil law for the country, and members of the U.S. Congress have been demanding progress on this issue. Any progress to report?

BURNETT: Well, Washington wants to see the Iraqi parliament approve several pieces of important legislation as benchmarks to prove that they can make progress toward political power sharing.

So in the last week, there's been a lot of activity around a new oil law. Iraq sits on top of the world's third-largest oil reserves and the parliament has to decide how all three ethnic groups here - the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds - will share that oil wealth and then how much participation they'll allow in the oil industry by foreign companies.

So you can imagine this is an incredibly sensitive issue because billions of dollars and oil revenues are at stake. But the oil law, it's going nowhere fast because they can't even get a quorum. Shiite politicians loyal to the anti-American cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, had boycotted the parliament saying the oil law is unfair. And then the largest bloc of Sunni politicians is also boycotting the parliament over an unrelated issue.

So add to that, a fatwa, or a religious edict, was issued this week by the Association of Muslim Scholars, which opposes the American presence in Iraq. They declared that whoever votes for the proposed oil law will, quote, "be exposed to God's wrath."

ELLIOTT: NPR's John Burnett in Baghdad. Thank you.

BURNETT: My pleasure, Debbie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.

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