A suicide bomber blew up a truck near a primary school and police station in Iraq's northern oil city of Kirkuk yesterday, killing 12 or 13 people, police officials said.
The attacker rammed the truck into the concrete blast barriers protecting the back of the compound at about 11:30am, detonating his explosives, which were hidden under a load of flour, local police spokesman Brigadier General Sarhat Qadir said.
The number of wounded was placed between 137 and 178 people -- those near the blast when US troops were apparently visiting the police station, Kirkuk district police commander Major General Torhan Yussef Abdul Rahman said.
Television News footage showed one US soldier seen standing nearby with a bandage around his head and blood on the front of his uniform. The US command in Baghdad said it was looking into the report.
Among the people killed in the explosion was a policeman, he added. Police and a hospital doctor said earlier that a baby was also killed.
Many of the wounded were pupils at the nearby school and local residents, after the suicide bomber blew up the truck outside the criminal investigations department in the north Kirkuk district of Rahimawa, Rahman said.
Ambulances in the city used loudspeakers to call on people to go to hospitals to donate blood following the attack.
Rahman said the explosion caused extensive damage, but the area was sealed off by police, with officers barring journalists from viewing the bomb site.
Separately, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol in south Kirkuk wounded five policeman, police said.
The attack comes days after the Iraqi government endorsed plans to relocate thousands of Arabs who were moved to Kirkuk as part of Saddam Hussein's campaign to force ethnic Kurds out of the city in an effort to undo one of the former dictator's most enduring and hated policies.
Kurds are seeking to incorporate the city, 290km north of Baghdad, and into their nearby autonomous region. But the move has met strong opposition from Sunni Arabs who fear being isolated from Iraq's oil riches, which are concentrated in the north and the mainly Shiite south.
Insurgent attacks are common in Kirkuk, which sits atop a third of the country's oil resources and is home to a fractious ethnic and sectarian mix.
Longstanding Kurdish demands for the city to be incorporated into their autonomous region in northern Iraq are due to be put to a referendum before the end of the year.
Iraqi police and hospital sources said that the bodies of 19 civilians kidnapped by gunmen at a fake checkpoint north of Baghdad were found yesterday.
They said all had been shot in the head and chest in one of the biggest mass kidnappings in months.
Gunmen kidnapped the civilians, men from a Shiite village near the city of Baquba, after stopping cars at a fake checkpoint on Sunday. The bodies were found not far from Baquba, which lies 65km north of Baghdad.
Gunmen also kidnapped 14 policemen near Baquba, the provincial capital of Diyala province, a month ago. They were later found dead. Diyala is home to Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds and has been the scene of relentless bloodshed.
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