Dozens killed in truck bombing near Kirkuk

A suicide truck bombing near a Shi'ite mosque in a town south of the oil-rich northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk killed at least 64 people, wounded about 202 others and flattened buildings around the area Saturday.


AFP - A truck bomb killed 64 people near the northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk on Saturday, the country's bloodiest attack in 15 months just 10 days before US troops are due to quit urban areas.

The attack, which also wounded 202 people, struck near a mosque in Taza Kharmatu, a predominantly Turkmen Shiite town south of Kirkuk, at around 1:00 pm (1000 GMT) and claimed women and children among its victims, officials said.

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

"Our forces ... will arrest those who committed the crime in Taza Kharmatu and bring them to justice."

Sabah al-Daoudi, the Iraqi health ministry's representative in Kirkuk, told AFP that 64 people had died and 202 were injured in what he described as a "suicide explosion". Shukur Abdullah, the head of Kirkuk hospital's mortuary, confirmed the death toll.

Daoudi added that around 30 of the wounded were being kept in hospital for treatment.

A senior police official, who did not want to be identified, said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber, and appeared to have been an Al-Qaeda bombing.

More than one tonne of explosives was used in the bombing, the official said.

"I saw a truck passing through a very narrow road and, a few minutes later, I heard a huge explosion and the ceiling of my shop collapsed on my head," said Akbar Zain al-Abdin, 40, whose fertiliser and farm products store was almost completely destroyed.

"I didn't see a fire, but I saw a huge cloud of sand in the sky," he said.

"The victims were our relatives and our friends, their houses collapsed on them."

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."

The attack, which took place around 400 metres (yards) from the Shiite Al-Rasul mosque, also seriously damaged dozens of houses, with police saying that many victims could still be under the rubble.

An AFP reporter at the scene said the bomb left a deep crater in the ground.

In the aftermath of the attack, police urged local residents to donate blood.

The bombing was the bloodiest single attack in Iraq since March 6, 2008, when a roadside bomb was followed by a suicide attack in central Baghdad's Karrada neighbourhood, killing 68 people.

More recently, a car bomb on June 10 in a market in Batha, in the largely peaceful southern province of Dhi Qar, killed 19 people and wounded 56. The attack was blamed on Al-Qaeda.

Also on Saturday, a car bomb in the former insurgent bastion of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, killed three police and wounded seven other people.

The Taza bombing comes barely a week ahead of a deadline for US troops to pull back from Iraq's built-up areas as part of a landmark security accord signed between Washington and Baghdad in November.

The agreement calls on US forces to leave Iraq altogether by the end of 2011.

On Saturday, the US army handed over to Iraqi control a base in Baghdad's sprawling Shiite neighbourhood of Sadr City, once a bastion for anti-US radicals.

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 Iraq's own 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 the main northern city of Mosul.

Kirkuk, north of Baghdad, is plagued with intercommunal tensions among its Kurdish, Turkmen and Arab communities.

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

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