Published February 04, 2004
IRBIL, Iraq – Saadi Sultan Mameh was filming a reception at a Kurdish party office when, suddenly, a man with a stubbled beard shuffled into the frame. As soon as the man clasped the hand of a senior Kurdish official, Mameh heard a blast, and his viewfinder was covered in fire and flesh.
"My camera lens went red with blood," said Mameh.
A second attacker slipped in similarly in a gathering of another Kurdish party office across town and unleashed a carnage of equal proportion.
The death toll in the twin attacks rose to 109 Wednesday with more people dying of injuries overnight, according to Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the U.S.-installed Iraqi Governing Council. The U.S.-led occupation authority put the toll at 101 as of Tuesday night.
The attacks Sunday, during celebrations marking the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, were the bloodiest of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.
Kurds blamed Ansar al-Islam, a militant group allegedly linked to Al Qaeda, for the bombings at the offices of the Kurdish Democratic Party, the KDP, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the PUK.
Kurdish television broadcast Wednesday a witness-reconstructed sketch of the man suspected to be the homicide bomber at the KPD office, and urged people to come forward with information on him.
The explosion at the PUK office was videotaped by Mameh, 27, who has been working for KurdSat, the party's television station, for the past four years. He said he knew everyone's face except that of the homicide bomber.
"All those who died were my friend and colleagues. We were like family," said Mameh, lying on a mattress on the floor of his living room recovering from a knee injury he received in the bombing.
Filming from a platform, Mameh noticed a man in loose beige pants and blue-and-white checkered shirt enter the hall. From his appearance, Mameh thought, he might be a member of an Islamic party.
"I watched the clip more than 50 times," he said. "The only gratification it gives me is that I was able to film the moment so that the truth would be known. So that Al Qaeda would be exposed. There would be evidence."
Lt. Col. Harry J. Schute, a battalion commander with U.S. forces stationed in Irbil, told the AP that he left the KDP office along with a colleague about a minute before the blast.
On their way out they chatted for about 30 seconds with another American officer before he went in, when the blast occurred. Only the officer who went in suffered a minor injury in the ear.
"It's one of those fate things," said Schute. "Those 30 seconds made the difference," Schute said.
Schute said he was planning to go to the PUK celebration next.
Since the attacks, black banners announcing the death of loved ones have covered the walls all over Irbil, the heartland of the Kurdish self-rule region. Wakes are being held in almost every mosque for those perished in the blasts.
No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, the bloodiest in Iraq in six months. But Kurdish and U.S. officials blamed Muslim extremists -- particularly Ansar al-Islam, an armed group that operates in the Kurdish enclave and is believed allied with Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda.
Schute said the sophistication of the attacks would indicate that Ansar al-Islam was behind them.
"You don't just go get someone off the street and tell them to put on a vest and blow themselves up," said Schute.
Sheik Abdul-Ghani al-Bazzaz, head of the Kurdistan Islamic Movement condemned the bombings, saying Islam rejects the killings of innocent people.
He said he "cannot confirm or deny" if Ansar or Al Qaeda were behind the attacks, even though it had become very popular to "point the fingers at them" following the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
Ansar al-Islam, or "Helpers of Islam," is a group of several hundred Kurdish militants who split from the Kurdistan Islamic Movement in 2002, "because they considered us to be un-Islamic", said al-Bazzaz.
The militants have vowed to establish an independent Islamic state in the north.
Kurdish officials say that since Saddam Hussein's fall, more Ansar fighters have been infiltrating Iraq.
On Tuesday, another American soldier was killed in a roadside bomb explosion as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced he'll soon send a team to Iraq to break an impasse between the U.S.-led coalition and the Shiite Muslim clergy over how to transfer power to Iraqis.
The United States believes security is too precarious for elections and instead wants legislators to be appointed in regional caucuses.