Page last updated at 12:50 GMT, Sunday, 21 June 2009 13:50 UK

Iraqi bombing death toll climbs

Men dig graves for victims of a bombing in Kirkuk, 20 Juen 2009
A local official said many women and children were killed

The death toll from an attack near the Iraqi city of Kirkuk - the deadliest in Iraq for more than a year - has risen to at least 72, security officials say.

About 200 people were injured in the truck bombing, which flattened dozens of mud-brick houses.

It happened as worshippers were leaving a Shia mosque run by the Turkmen community in the town of Taza.

US forces are due to leave Iraqi towns and cities this month, leading to fears that violence could escalate.

Saturday's blast, which officials said bore the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda attack, left a deep crater in the ground.

There were conflicting reports about whether the truck had been driven by a suicide bomber or had been booby-trapped.

The search for survivors was continuing on Sunday, and officials said the death toll could rise further.

Volatile mix

"Most of the victims were children, the elderly, or women who all represent easy targets for terrorists," provincial governor Abdel Rahman Mustafa told AFP news agency.

"They want to plant the seeds of sectarian division among the Iraqi people."


Kirkuk, about 250km (155 miles) from Baghdad, was the scene of two suicide bombings last month, in which 14 people were killed.

The city is the centre of northern Iraq's oil industry, and home to a volatile mix of Kurds, Arabs, Christians and members of the Turkmen community.

Sunni insurgents and groups including al-Qaeda remain active in the area despite security improvements in other parts of the country, correspondents say.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki called the bombing "an attempt to harm security and stability and spread mistrust of the Iraqi forces".

The US plans to withdraw its troops from Iraqi cities and major towns by 30 June, and is due to end combat operations across Iraq by September 2010, leaving Iraqi security forces to cope alone.

There are concerns that insurgents may try to take advantage of the withdrawal, although the country's leaders say Iraqi forces are capable of handling internal security without US support.

Just hours before the attack, Mr Maliki had promised the withdrawal would go ahead as promised, calling it a "great victory".

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