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Suicide bomber kills at least 20, injures 83 outside bank in Kirkuk


BAGHDAD, Iraq - A suicide attacker detonated an explosives-laden belt yesterday outside a bank in the divided northern city of Kirkuk, authorities said, killing at least 20 people and injuring 83 as another bloody day unfolded in Iraq.

The victims of the latest carnage in Kirkuk, an ethnic battleground claimed by Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen, included retirees collecting their subsistence pensions and child laborers working the busy street.

The blast occurred a few hours before Massoud Barzani, who seeks to incorporate Kirkuk into an expanded Kurdish zone, took his oath as the first president of the Kurdish autonomous region. It was not immediately clear whether the bombing was meant as a warning against Kurdish aims on Kirkuk.

In other violence, three U.S. soldiers were reported killed in two separate incidents and five Iraqi soldiers died in a car bomb strike northeast of the capital.

Meanwhile, the morgue in Baghdad reported receiving two dozen bodies, some beheaded, all apparently victims of highway ambushes along the perilous roads of western Iraq.

The bloodshed persisted as Iraqi lawmakers continued to wrangle over the makeup of a key National Assembly committee charged with overseeing the drafting of a new Iraqi constitution. Sunni Arabs, who widely boycotted national elections Jan. 30 and are now underrepresented in the legislature compared to the population, are seeking an expanded presence on the panel. But no deal has been struck.

More than 1,000 Iraqis and others have been killed since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari named his new government on April 28, according to news service compilations.

Experts say it is not surprising that violence continues in Kirkuk, about 180 miles north of Baghdad, given the high stakes and emotional investment of many Iraqis in the city near one of Iraq's largest oil reserves. The area was relatively quiet in the first months after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 but is now the site of frequent bombings, assassinations and other attacks.

Yesterday's strike was carried out by a suicide bomber who set off the explosives along a crowded street outside a bank, said Torhan Yousif, the Kirkuk chief of police.

The death toll seemed sure to rise, authorities said.

The explosion unleashed familiar scenes of chaos as bodies, body parts and wreckage were blown about the blood-smeared street and dazed survivors sought to help the injured.

One woman at the gate of the general hospital in Kirkuk was crying and pleading with the guards to allow her to go in and see her 13-year-old son, Salwan, who worked at a toy shop near the blast site. Once she was allowed to enter the emergency room, however, she learned Salwan was dead.

"I went out to see a horrible scene," said Nibras Abdul Razaq, owner of the Milad Hotel, which was damaged in the blast. "I hurried to help the people and other men joined me as well."

Restoring security to Iraq is the biggest challenge facing al-Jaafari, a Shiite Muslim whose government received a vote of confidence yesterday from the Shiite-dominated National Assembly.

The five Iraqi soldiers killed yesterday were victims of a car bomb that exploded beside a road northeast of Baghdad as an Iraqi army convoy passed by. The blast wounded three soldiers and two civilians. Three mortar shells also landed on a nearby police station in the town of Kanaan, police said, wounding one officer.

The three U.S. military fatalities reported yesterday, involved two separate incidents: A rocket-propelled grenade killed a military policeman yesterday as he was on patrol in the capital; and two soldiers assigned to a Marine unit were killed Monday when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle near the flash point city of Ramadi, west of the capital.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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