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Ethnic Disputes Delay Iraqi Census

Iraq's planning minister says the country's first nationwide census in two decades will be postponed indefinitely because of ethnic tensions.

Ali Baban said Sunday the government is technically capable of carrying out the census, but fears it could inflame tensions in northern areas disputed by Arabs and Kurds. He said local political parties in Kirkuk and Nineveh have expressed reservations about the census.

The census planned for October was to have been the first since 1987 to include the country's north. Kirkuk and Nineveh provinces border the autonomous Kurdistan region and are at the center of contentious land disputes among Sunni Arabs, minority Turkmen and the region's Kurds.

Officials said the the census could potentially take place either in April or October 2010.

Ethnic Kurds claim Kirkuk, and its vast oil fields, and want it incorporated into their enclave.

When Iraq's late former president, Saddam Hussein, was in power, he relocated thousands of Arabs from Iraq's south to Kirkuk to reduce Kurdish influence there.

But after 2003, Kurdish troops took control of Kirkuk, and Arab and Turkmen leaders say Kurdish authorities have since attempted to reverse the process by sending Kurds to settle in and around the city.

Also Sunday, Arab and Kurdish politicians traded accusations over a series of devastating bombings which have rocked the area around the northern city of Mosul in recent days.

Kurdish officials said members of a mainly Sunni group, Arab al-Hadba, elected to the Mosul council this year are responsible for "inciting" Arab nationalists and other armed groups to attack Kurds.

But the Sunni Arab governor of Nineveh Province of Atheel al-Nujaifi accused the Kurds of orchestrating a campaign of violence designed to legitimize the continued presence of Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers in the area.

In the latest attack, a minority Shabak member of the Nineveh provincial council, Qussai Abbas, and two bodyguards were wounded Sunday when a roadside bomb targeting his convoy exploded in Mosul.

Last week, two massive truck bombs in the Shabak settlement of Khazna, near Mosul, killed 34 people, wounded over 155 and destroyed a large section of the village including dozens of houses.