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Middle east

Truck bombing deadliest attack in over a year

Video by Yuka ROYER


Latest update : 2009-06-22

The death toll from Iraq's deadliest bombing in more than a year rose to 72, police said on Sunday, a day after a suicide bomber detonated a truck packed with explosives outside a mosque in the north of the country.

AFP - Residents of the town hit by Iraq's bloodiest attack in 16 months searched for their loved ones on Sunday after a massive truck bombing killed 72 people and destroyed dozens of houses.

Saturday's attack in the predominantly Shiite Turkmen town of Taza Kharmatu, 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of the northern oil hub of Kirkuk, was the latest bloody bombing in the runup to the planned pullout of US troops from Iraqi towns and cities.

As rescue efforts continued, Iraqi officials announced that insurgents had killed nine police over the past two days in the two most populous cities of Baghdad and Mosul.

"The toll from the explosion yesterday in Taza is 72 dead," said Sarhad Qadir, the top policeman for Kirkuk's outskirts, who added that more than 200 people had been wounded.

A doctor at the Kirkuk mortuary, Ibrahim Mohammed Jassim, confirmed the death toll and added: "It is likely that the toll will increase because search operations have not yet concluded."

The suicide attack, which occurred around 400 metres (yards) from the Shiite Al-Rasul mosque and left a deep crater in the ground, has been blamed on Al-Qaeda.

"Taza was struck by an attack that destroyed our families, our lives, our homes," said 58-year-old local resident Majid Shaker. "This is the true face of terrorism -- attacking innocents in their homes."

Iraqi emergency services and US soldiers helped residents sift through the rubble in their quest to find survivors of about 80 houses levelled by the blast.

The International Committee of the Red Cross sent a tonne of medical equipment to Kirkuk hospital, the agency's Iraq spokeswoman Dibeh Fakhr said, while the US military said it had contributed generator lights and water to the rescue effort.

"Most of the victims were children, the elderly or women, who all represent easy targets for terrorists," provincial governor Abdel Rahman Mustafa told AFP. "They want to plant the seeds of sectarian division among the Iraqi people."

The Turkmen Front, Iraq's main Turkmen political party, announced three days of mourning and called for an "immediate investigation... and for the criminals to be brought to justice."

Saturday's attack was the bloodiest since two mentally impaired women were used by Al-Qaeda as unwitting bombers in Baghdad pet markets on February 1, 2008, in twin attacks that killed 98 people.

The Taza bombing comes ahead of a June 30 deadline for US troops to pull back from Iraq's built-up areas ahead of a complete pullout from the country by the end of 2011.

"This ugly crime is an attempt to harm security and stability and spread mistrust of the Iraqi forces," Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Saturday.

UN Special Representative Staffan de Mistura described it as a "horrifying and wicked crime against innocent civilians" that was "aimed at provoking a new cycle of mass violence and revenge".

The Iraqi premier warned earlier this month that insurgent groups and militia would likely step up their attacks in the coming weeks in a bid to undermine confidence in the Iraqi security forces.

Violence has dropped markedly in Iraq in recent months, with May seeing the lowest Iraqi death toll since the 2003 invasion. But attacks remain common, particularly in Baghdad and Mosul.

The oil province of Kirkuk has been plagued by tensions between its Kurdish, Turkmen and Arab communities.

Those tensions prevented the holding of provincial elections on January 31, when all of Iraq except for the three autonomous Kurdish provinces voted for new councils.

Date created : 2009-06-21