A suicide truck bomber ripped through a busy commercial district in Kirkuk on Monday afternoon, leaving a large crater surrounded by dozens of mutilated bodies, police and military officials said.
At least 80 people were killed in the blast and another 170 were wounded, according to officials.
Several shops were damaged in the explosion in Kirkuk’s Qalah neighborhood, as well as a Kurdish political office affiliated with President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
Attacks on civilians in northern Iraq have increased since U.S. and Iraqi forces initiated a security crackdown in Baghdad and neighboring Diyala province.
After a suicide attack at a market in Amerli killed 150 people earlier this month, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said he was concerned that insurgents had been flushed from Baghdad and Diyala province and were fleeing to havens in northern Iraq. Al-Maliki called for tighter security along the highway connecting Baghdad and Kirkuk.
After the Monday truck blast, the main street outside the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan office was littered with the blackened remains of about two dozen vehicles, The Associated Press reported. The blast, which left a hole 30 feet deep, also damaged the fence outside Kirkuk Castle, a historic fortress and prominent landmark, AP reported.
“Tens of houses and shops were totally destroyed by the power of the explosion,” Police General Torhan Abdul Rahman, deputy chief of police, told Reuters.
Reuters further reported that a bus was among the many vehicles set on fire by the blast. Several passengers trapped on the bus were burned to death, the wire agency reported.
Video from the scene showed rescue workers scrambling to find survivors among dozens of bloodied bodies — some still on the bus, others strewn around the crater left by the blast.
Minutes after the midday truck blast, U.S. and Iraqi security forces found a car rigged with explosives and defused it. The car was near the city’s primary medical facility, Azadi Hospital.
About two hours later, another car bomb detonated near a police patrol in southern /topics/kirkuk” class=”cnnInlineTopic”>Kirkuk, killing a police officer and wounding three others, authorities said.
The oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which is home to a mixed population of Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds, is about 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Baghdad.
The massive influx of Kurds since the 2003 invasion of Iraq has stoked sectarian tensions in Kirkuk. Many Kurds believe the northern Iraqi city is part of the Kurdistan region and that it should be governed by the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, a notion that has angered other ethnic groups.
Baghdad wracked with violence
Several people were killed in a string of attacks across Baghdad on Monday, the same day police reported finding 25 bullet-riddled bodies around the capital, an Interior Ministry official said.
Police believe the bodies are the products of sectarian vendettas between Sunnis and Shiites. So far this month, 338 bodies have been found dumped in the streets of Baghdad, the official said.
Five Iraqi soldiers were killed when a roadside bomb exploded near an army patrol on a highway in the Boub al-Sham district of northeast /topics/baghdad” class=”cnnInlineTopic”>Baghdad, the official said. Nine Iraqi soldiers were wounded in the blast.
Meanwhile, five people were killed and 25 were wounded when a suicide car bomber targeted a national police checkpoint in the Harthiya neighborhood of western Baghdad.
And in the northern part of the capital, in the Bab al-Mouadham district, gunmen opened fire on garbage collectors Monday afternoon, killing two people and wounding three.
In southern Baghdad, three people were killed and another three were wounded when two mortar rounds landed in the residential Abu Dsheer Shiite neighborhood, said the official.
Two more people were killed and one was wounded in southeastern Baghdad’s Zayouna neighborhood when a car bomb erupted Monday afternoon.
Another person was killed and three more were wounded in the capital’s Karrada district when a car bomb detonated on a commercial street just before 9 a.m., the official said.
â€¢ Gen. Peter Pace, outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived Monday in Iraq to discuss the U.S. military strategy with top commander Gen. David Petraeus. Pace headed into meetings with Petraeus after flying over Baghdad’s neighborhoods and markets in a Black Hawk helicopter for 20 minutes.