AFP - A suicide truck bomber triggered a massive blast in a Kurdish village in northern Iraq as residents slept early Thursday, flattening homes and killing at least 20 people, officials said.
The attack just after midnight in Wardak, southeast of the restive city of Mosul, brought down eight houses built from clay and stone, said a defence ministry official in Baghdad who gave a toll of 20 dead and 35 hurt.
Police Captain Mohammed Jalal confirmed it was a suicide attack and that a second such blast was foiled when the driver was killed by Iraqi security forces before he could detonate explosives hidden in his truck.
Most of the wounded were evacuated to a hospital in Hamdia, another town in Nineveh province, of which Mosul, 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Baghdad, is the capital.
Attacks in the region have become increasingly common, almost daily, in recent weeks, further straining tensions between Iraq's majority Arab and minority Kurd communities.
US and Iraqi officials have said hostility between Arabs and Kurds in the north is a major threat to the country's long-term security.
The autonomous region of Kurdistan wants to expand its territory to include the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk as well as villages in Nineveh, such as Wardak, a change the central Baghdad government resolutely opposes.
In August, General Ray Odierno, the top US military officer in Iraq, said discussions were under way for a possible accord with the central government and the Kurdish region to work alongside their respective armies in the disputed zones, which also include parts of Diyala province.
Elsewhere on Thursday, four people were killed and 29 wounded when a bomb exploded in a market south of Baghdad, the defence ministry official said.
The attack occurred in Mahmudiyah, a town 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of the capital, within a confessionally mixed region known as the Triangle of Death because of the frequency of insurgent attacks during the worst of Iraq's insurgency in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion.
The latest violence follows a spate of roadside bomb attacks across Iraq on Tuesday that killed four American soldiers and 10 Iraqi police, making it the bloodiest day that the US military had experienced in five months.
Monday had seen a series of blasts that left 22 people dead, including eight in a suicide car bombing at a security checkpoint in the former Al-Qaeda stronghold of Ramadi in western Iraq, on what was the worst day of violence since the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began almost three weeks ago.
The latest casualties come after the number of violent deaths in Iraq hit a 13-month high in August, raising fresh concerns about stability after the government admitted that security is worsening.
Statistics compiled by the defence, interior and health ministries showed that 456 people -- 393 civilians, 48 police and 15 Iraqi soldiers -- were killed, the highest monthly toll since July 2008 when 465 died in unrest.
In stark contrast, August saw seven American soldiers killed, the lowest monthly toll since the invasion six-and-a-half years ago.
The high number of Iraqis killed last month was partly explained by twin truck bomb attacks on the finance and foreign ministries in Baghdad that left at least 95 people dead and 600 others wounded on August 19.
Those attacks triggered a diplomatic crisis when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki blamed neighbouring Syria for failing to hand over two of the alleged planners of the finance ministry bombing.
Maliki sent extra troops to western Iraq at the weekend to secure the border with Syria, whose President Bashar al-Assad has dismissed allegations that Damascus is harbouring terrorists as "immoral" and politically motivated.