A suicide bomb blast has ripped through a teahouse in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, leaving dozens of people dead. The attack came after another suicide bomber targeted a police patrol in Mosul earlier in the day.
A suicide bomber detonated his explosives in the Classico Café in Kirkuk on Friday, as customers enjoyed tea and water pipes after breaking Ramadan fast. The attack killed at least 31 people and left another 26 wounded, according to police and hospital officials.
"I left the café to go to my shop opposite," a witness named Mohammed told Reuters news agency. "When the explosion happened the glass of my shop shattered and I was injured by the fragments. I rushed to the scene… some bodies were dismembered."
Nobody has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing. But Kirkuk lies on one of Iraq's most volatile ethnic fault lines, with Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen all vying for control of the oil-rich city. Kurds want to integrate Kirkuk into their autonomous northern region. A referendum was supposed to be held in 2007 to settle the city's political status, but the vote has been delayed repeatedly.
Earlier on Friday, a suicide bomber targeted a police patrol outside of the northern city of Mosul, killing four police officers. And near the city of Tikrit, drive-by shooters gunned down a senior police officer.
On Thursday, 44 people were killed nationwide in bomb and gun attacks. And at least 14 soldiers died on Wednesday during an assault by gunmen on an army checkpoint.
Worst violence in years
Al Qaeda's branch in Iraq has sought to ride a wave of Sunni discontent with the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, launching a sustained campaign of bomb and shooting attacks, the worst in nearly half a decade.
According to the Associated Press, more than 2,600 people have perished in attacks since April. In June alone, 761 people were killed by terrorist violence, according to Reuters news agency. During the height of sectarian violence in 2006-7, the monthly death toll sometimes surpassed 3,000.
The escalating violence in Iraq comes during a period of heightened tensions throughout the Middle East. In neighboring Syria, a civil war between largely Sunni rebels and the Alawite-led government has left more than 90,000 people dead. The Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Violence in Syria has increasingly triggered sectarian clashes in Lebanon as well.
slk/jm (AP, Reuters)