Attack north of Kirkuk occurred as Kurdish officials met with tribal leaders
The bomber detonated his explosives inside a popular restaurant killing at least 55 people and wounding 120 others,
BAGHDAD – A suicide bomber struck Thursday inside a popular restaurant in northern Iraq where Kurdish officials were meeting with Arab tribal leaders, killing at least 55 people and wounding about 120, police said.
Police Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qadir, who gave the casualty figures, said the blast occurred in the Abdullah Restaurant just north of the contested oil city of Kirkuk.
A Kurdish official said Arab tribal leaders were having lunch with members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party of President Jalal Talabani.
They were to attend a meeting with Talabani after the lunch to discuss ways to defuse tensions among Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen in the Kirkuk area.
The restaurant was also packed with families celebrating the final day of the Eid al-Adha religious holiday. It is affiliated with another Kirkuk restaurant of the same name, which was attacked by a car bomb in 2007 that killed six people and wounded 25.
At the city’s main hospital, family members wept and screamed in the blood-smeared corridors as doctors tried to save lives. Many of the victims were horrifically wounded and mangled bodies of the dead lay unattended on the emergency room floor.
‘I saw dead bodies soaked with blood’
Salam Abdullah, a 45-year-old Kurd, said he was having lunch with his wife when they saw shrapnel flying through the room.
“I held my wife and led her outside the place. As we were leaving, I saw dead bodies soaked with blood and huge destruction,” he said. “We waited outside the restaurant for some minutes. Then an ambulance took us to the hospital.”
Abdullah was hit in his head and left hand while the wife was wounded in her head and chest.
Awad al-Jubouri, 53, one of the tribal leaders at the luncheon, said he heard a huge explosion “and I felt that my chest was bleeding.”
“I do not know how a group like al-Qaida claiming to be Islamic plans to attack and kill people on sacred days like Eid,” he said. “We were only meeting to discuss our problems with the Kurds and trying to impose peace among Muslims in Kirkuk.”
Kirkuk, the center of Iraq’s northern oil fields, has been the scene of long-standing ethnic tension.
The Kurds want to annex Kirkuk and surrounding Tamim province into their self-ruled region in northern Iraq. Most Turkomen and Arabs want the province to remain under central government control, fearing the Kurds would discriminate against them.
Last July, a suicide bomber killed 25 people at a Kurdish political rally in Kirkuk. Angry bystanders stormed the headquarters of a Turkomen party, torching the building and nearby parked cars.
Six detained after U.S. raids
Elsewhere, the U.S. military said Thursday that American troops launched raids in at least four Iraqi cities, detaining six people believed to be associated with al-Qaida in Iraq.
A U.S. statement said two men were detained Wednesday in a pair of raids near Tarmiyah, 30 miles north of Baghdad.
Two others were captured Thursday in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province west of Baghdad, the statement said. The two others were arrested Thursday â€” one in Mosul and the other in Baghdad, U.S. officials said.
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U.S. troops have broad authority under a U.N. mandate to apprehend people deemed a security threat and hold them indefinitely without charge.
However, the mandate expires at the end of this month and will be replaced by a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement that requires the U.S. to obtain warrants to search houses or detain people except in active combat.
The new regulations will be part of a series of major changes in the five-year U.S.-led mission.
Britain announced Wednesday it will withdraw all but a handful of its 4,000 soldiers from Iraq next year. The United States is expected to shift a brigade to Basra in southern Iraq, where most of the British forces are located, to ensure the security of supply lines into the country from Kuwait.
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has called for withdrawing all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by early 2010, shifting responsibility to the Iraqis for the defense of the country against Sunni and Shiite extremists.