Three Iraqi soldiers died in a roadside bombing Friday in the northern city of Kirkuk, where relations remained frayed among Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens after a suicide bombing and ethnic clashes early in the week.
The bomb targeted a convoy of Iraqi army vehicles, killing three soldiers and wounding two, the military said.
The government warned local factions that it would not allow any party to unilaterally decide the region’s future, in reaction to a threat Thursday by Kurdish provincial council members to declare ethnically divided Kirkuk part of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Kurdish officials are worried that the national parliament will approve legislation that will delay local elections in Kirkuk and impose a quota system for seats in the 40-seat provincial council. Parliament is scheduled to discuss the matter Sunday in an emergency session.
Such a move would force the Kurds, who dominate the current system, to split power with Arabs and Turkmens. The controversial version of the legislation also calls for the removal of the current Iraqi security force from Kirkuk, which Arabs and Turkmens say is controlled by Kurds.
“The Iraqi government is refusing any individual step to change the situation in Kirkuk and it is considering it illegal and unconstitutional,” government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said in a statement Friday.
Dabbagh warned that escalating tensions could be exploited by Iraq’s enemies.
On Monday, a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a Kurdish rally protesting the electoral legislation in parliament. The bombing sparked a rampage by Kurdish protesters, who attacked the office of the local Turkmen political party. Turkmen guards answered with gunfire.
The suicide attack and clashes left at least 25 people dead. Local security commanders blamed the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq for the explosion.
Kurds say oil-rich Kirkuk belongs to them and see claiming it as justice for their oppression under Saddam Hussein, who forcibly expelled many of them from the province and settled Arabs in their place. There are similar tensions across northern Iraq, from Nineveh province to sections of Diyala province, which also saw the uprooting of Kurds and settling of Arabs.
The rift threatens to delay provincial elections across Iraq if parliament cannot decide on Kirkuk’s status.
Kurdish lawmakers walked out of parliament last week after they were surprised by a secret vote on the short-term fate of Kirkuk.
Neighboring Turkey opposes making Kirkuk part of Iraqi Kurdistan. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, on Thursday that he backed a quota system.
In another development, the U.S. military said the Iraqi army had detained two suspected members of Al Qaeda in Iraq believed to have been involved in a June 26 suicide bombing by a policeman. The attack killed three U.S. Marines and 18 other people, including prominent tribal sheiks, in Karmah, in the western province of Anbar.
Times staff writers Caesar Ahmed and Saif Hameed and a correspondent in Kirkuk contributed to this report.