Suicide car bomber kills 7 in Iraq


A suicide car bomber killed at least seven people today in a huge explosion that ripped through shops and set cars ablaze in the northern Iraqi oil centre of Kirkuk.

Some 25 people were also wounded in the blast, said Major- General Torhan Abdul-Rahman, deputy police chief of Kirkuk, a volatile city claimed by both Kurds and Arabs that has witnessed regular bomb attacks and shootings.

Another police official put the death toll at eight.

Clouds of dense, black smoke rose into the sky as fire-fighters, helped by residents, tried to extinguish the flames. Twisted wrecks of cars lay scattered in the street, in front of the blackened ruins of shops.

A police official said 25 shops and 10 cars were destroyed in the explosion, near a bus terminal in the Kurdish area of al-Haseer in northern Kirkuk. Despite the scene of devastation, the death toll was low because many of the shops were closed.

Kirkuk, which sits on Iraq's northern oil fields, is shared by Kurds, Turkmen, Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs.

Kurds want it to be incorporated into their largely autonomous Kurdistan region, but Arab residents strongly oppose that. A referendum on the issue, due by the end of the year, is expected to be delayed until 2008.

Analysts have warned of a bloodbath unless the international community and the Iraqi government pay more attention to settling the city's disputed status.