Iraq suicide bomb kills at least 33 in Kirkuk

A casualty is carried by soldiers at the site of a suicide bomb attack in Kirkuk, 250km (155 miles) north of the capital, Baghdad. photograph: reuters

A casualty is carried by soldiers at the site of a suicide bomb attack in Kirkuk, 250km (155 miles) north of the capital, Baghdad. photograph: reuters

Mon, Feb 4, 2013, 00:00

At least 33 people were killed in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk yesterday when a suicide bomber detonated a truck packed with explosives outside a police headquarters and gunmen disguised as officers tried to storm the compound.

The blast was the third major attack in weeks in or near the multiethnic city of Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, at the heart of a dispute between Iraq’s government and autonomous Kurdistan region.

“A suicide bomber driving a vehicle packed with explosives hit the entrance of the headquarters and after the blast gunmen in explosive vests attacked with AK47s and grenades, but the guards killed them,” said a police official.

Survivors were dragged on to stretchers amid the wreckage of the blast, which left a large crater in the street.

Police said 33 were killed, including 12 employees at the government office. But a health official said only 16 bodies were at a hospital morgue and more than 90 were wounded.

The attack comes as insurgents linked to al-Qaeda try to inflame sectarian conflict in Iraq, where a powersharing government split among the Shia majority, Sunni and ethnic Kurds has been in crisis since US troops left a year ago.

Shia prime minister Nuri al-Maliki is facing mass protests from Sunni Muslims in western provinces calling for him to step down. They complain of marginalisation since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

In the north, the premier is also caught in a standoff with the autonomous Kurdish enclave over control of oil wealth and land along the so-called “disputed territories” where both regions claim control.

Sectarian tensions

Kirkuk, 170km north of the capital, is at the heart of the dispute. Last year Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional government sent rival forces to towns close to the disputed areas.

Several armed groups are active in Kirkuk, and Sunni Islamist insurgents linked to al-Qaeda often attack security forces in an attempt to undermine Mr Maliki’s government and stoke sectarian tensions.

Al-Qaeda’s local faction, Islamic State of Iraq, though weakened after years of war with American troops has benefited from the inflow of Sunni Islamists and arms into Syria where Sunni rebels are fighting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Suicide bomb attacks are the hallmark of Iraqi al-Qaeda. And the group claimed responsibility for a suicide attack that killed a Sunni lawmaker last month in Falluja.

But Kirkuk has also been home to the Naqshbandi army or JRTN, one of several insurgent groups made up of former soldiers and members of Saddam’s outlawed Baath Party.

Iraqi Arabs, Kurdistan’s government and Kirkuk’s minority Turkmen all lay claim to the city, known to some as the “Jerusalem of the Kurds”, a reference to its historically disputed status.

Last month a suicide bomber killed at least 26 at a funeral at a Shia mosque in the nearby city of Tuz Khurmato. Days earlier a suicide bomber driving a truck killed 25 in an attack on a political party office in Kirkuk.

Violence in Iraq is lower than at the height of sectarian slaughter in 2006-2007, when tens of thousands died. But more than 4,400 people were killed last year in attacks and bombings. – (Reuters)