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IRAQ WARS
Iraqi Kurd nature reserve looks to shed violent legacy
by Staff Writers
Choman, Iraq (AFP) Sept 12, 2013


Iraq mosque suicide bomb, attacks kill 39
Baghdad (AFP) Sept 11, 2013 - A suicide bombing against a Shiite mosque as worshippers streamed out was the bloodiest of attacks across Iraq that left at least 39 people dead on Wednesday, officials said.

Dozens were wounded in the violence, and locals exacted a grim revenge on one man suspected of being a second attacker in the mosque bombing, which comes amid Iraq's worst bloodshed since 2008.

Authorities have sought to tackle the unrest with a string of measures ranging from massive security operations to implementing tight traffic restrictions in the capital in a bid to stem the number of car bombs.

But attacks have continued to hit much of the country, with more than 4,000 people killed in violence already this year.

The worst of Wednesday's violence struck the confessionally mixed north Baghdad neighbourhood of Waziriyah, where a suicide bomber blew himself up at a mosque at around 6:40 pm (1540 GMT) as worshippers were exiting following evening prayers.

At least 30 people were killed and 55 others wounded, security and hospital sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Several nearby shopfronts were also badly damaged by the blast.

Immediately after the bombing, locals spotted a man they suspected was about to blow himself up as well, and gunned him down before setting his corpse ablaze, the sources said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack against the Tamimi mosque, a Shiite place of worship, but Sunni militants linked to Al-Qaeda frequently set off attacks against Iraq's Shiite majority, who they regard as apostates.

Violence elsewhere in the country killed nine people, including four in the restive northern province of Nineveh.

In three separate attacks in the province, which remains one of Iraq's least stable, gunmen killed three people, among them a school principal who was shot dead at his house.

And in provincial capital Mosul, a magnetic "sticky bomb" attached to a car killed another person.

Three attacks in and around the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk left two dead, including a senior security official, while a Sunni anti-Qaeda militiaman escaped assassination.

A sticky bomb killed one person in south Baghdad, and another died in a roadside bombing in a town on the capital's southern outskirts, while a gunman on a motorcycle killed a Sunni imam near the southern port city of Basra.

The surge in bloodshed has sparked concerns that Iraq is slipping back into the all-out sectarian war that plagued it in 2006 and 2007, leaving tens of thousands dead.

Officials have vowed to press on with a campaign targeting militants they say has led to the capture of hundreds of fighters and the killing of dozens more, as well as the dismantling of militant training camps and bomb-making sites.

But the government has faced criticism for not doing more to defuse anger in the Sunni Arab community over alleged ill-treatment at the hands of the Shiite-led authorities, which analysts and diplomats say militant groups exploit on the ground to recruit and carry out attacks.

This month, an Al-Qaeda front group claimed responsibility for a spate of car bombs in Baghdad that targeted Shiite areas and left 50 dead.

It has explicitly said attacks have been carried out in retribution for operations targeting Sunnis and the executions of convicted militants.

Near Iraq's northernmost point, close to Turkey and Iran, a national park of snow-capped peaks and forested valleys is drawing tourists and researchers keen to explore a hardly touched land.

But this region of outstanding natural beauty has also been scarred by war, and local officials are grappling with the problem of minefields left over from years of conflict.

The 1,100-square-kilometre (425-square-mile) reserve, known as the Halgurd Sakran National Park, encompasses Iraq's highest peaks along the border with Iran.

It has been listed as a national park by the northern autonomous Kurdish region for a year, but has inherited a legacy of violence in the region.

There are still minefields left from the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war, and until recently Turkey and Iran shelled the nearby area, targeting Kurdish separatists from those countries who maintain rear bases in north Iraq.

The shelling may have stopped, but the minefields that remain have been cordoned off as non-governmental organisations work to de-mine the entire reserve.

Visitors making the trip to Halgurd Sakran pass a series of waterfalls, mountain ranges and a historical town, and on arrival at the park are greeted by lakes, springs and greenery.

Officials say the park was established as part of efforts to boost tourism, and that it has attracted the interest of researchers while also raising awareness towards local environmental protection.

"The goal in establishing this nature reserve is to protect the environment, and revert the civilisation and culture of the area to the way ancient peoples lived," said Abdulwahid Kuwani, head of a council supervising Halgurd Sakran.

He is also the mayor of Choman, the largest town in the area.

"In addition to that, this is a scientific project, so that universities in Iraq and Kurdistan can carry out research and study the environmental and zoological varieties found here.

"We also want to make this national park a tourism region for Kurdistan, Iraq and the Middle East to come and see wild animals."

Kurdish officials have sought to help locals who live within the national park's boundaries with breeding sheep and promoting cottage industries such as the sale of local handicrafts or dried pomegranates, figs and nuts to tourists.

They have barred hunting within the reserve, which contains species of wild deer, bears and tigers, and they have also banned the felling of trees.

"It is astonishing," Gunther Loiskandl, an Austrian wildlife expert, said of Halgurd Sakran.

"The region is rich in animal and plant varieties -- it has all that is required of a nature reserve," he told AFP.

"We must work for future generations: it is going to take time to restore the environment and animal life."

The three-province region of Kurdistan in north Iraq is widely seen as more successful than the rest of the country to the south, and often trumpets its reputation for better security, faster economic growth and increased stability.

In addition to vast oil reserves, which are the subject of a dispute with the federal government, the Kurdish region has its own parliament and enforces its own visa regime under which it is markedly easier to obtain a tourist visa.

Although there are no figures available for the number of visitors to the park itself, tourism numbers to the region are rising.

About 2.27 million domestic and foreign tourists made the trip last year, and already in the first six months of 2013, the region has welcomed 1.2 million visitors.

But those responsible for administering the national park are well aware that they not lacking in challenges, in addition to the danger from mines sewn long ago.

In August, officials found a dead tiger, but could not determine how the great cat died.

Shortly afterwards, another tiger was accidentally killed by villagers who put out poisoned meat in an attempt to kill wolves that had attacked their cattle.

On both occasions, park officials issued strong warnings to residents.

The park remains crucial to Iraqi Kurdistan's tourism strategy, which includes as one of its goals highlighting the beauty of the autonomous region's natural vistas.

Nadir Rosti, a spokesman for the region's tourism directorate, said there are now plans to expand Halgurd Sakran farther north, as well as creating new national parks and dedicating greater funding to existing nature reserves.

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IRAQ WARS
New spate of Iraq violence kills 22
Baghdad (AFP) Sept 10, 2013
Attacks in Iraq killed 22 people on Tuesday, including six shot dead when gunmen stormed a house where a corpse was being ritually washed ahead of a funeral, officials said. The violence in central and northern Iraq, including an area known as the "Triangle of Death", is the latest in a surge in unrest that has left more than 4,000 people dead so far this year. Authorities have sought to ... read more


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