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Truck Bomb In Northern Iraq Kills 20


MOSUL (Reuters) -- A suicide bomber has driven a truck packed with explosives into a Kurdish village in north Iraq before dawn, killing at least 20 villagers and wounding 25, Iraqi police said.

The blast in the village of Wardek, 390 kilometers north of Baghdad, seemed calculated to fan ethnic tensions between Kurds and Arabs, whose politicians are embroiled in a bitter dispute over claims to territory and oil.

Women and children were among the dead and many houses were destroyed, police said.

Another truck bomber tried to set off a second blast in the village but local Kurdish Peshmerga forces opened fire and killed him before he reached its outskirts, Iraqi police said.

Wardek is 30 kilometers east of the volatile northern city of Mosul, where al Qaeda and other Sunni Arab insurgent groups are making a last stand after being driven out of their former strongholds in Baghdad and western Iraq.

U.S. officials say insurgents are increasingly seeking ways to attack Kurds in ethnically mixed parts of northern Iraq in a bid to foment ethnic violence between them and Arabs at a time of rising tensions over land disputes.

Earlier, a car bomb killed eight members of a single Arab family and leveled at least one house in Kirkuk, the city at the heart of the row between Arabs and minority Kurds.

The blast occurred near the home of an Arab leader of a pro-government local militias known as 'Awakening' councils, in the east of the city. The militias, including many former insurgents who switched sides, are a favourite al Qaeda target.

Kirkuk, an oil hub, is 250 kilometers north of Baghdad.

'Ignite Strife'

Home to a volatile mix of ethnic Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen, northern Iraq is the battleground of a standoff between Baghdad's Arab-led government and leaders of the largely autonomous Kurdistan region, who claim Kirkuk and other bits of the north as their ancestral homeland.

Major General Jamal Taher Bakr, Kirkuk's police chief, said a displaced family from Iraq's Diyala province further south had been taking refugee in the house when it was hit.

Police and local residents pulled bodies from the collapsed house. As distraught residents looked on, they wrapped corpses in bed sheets or mats and loaded them onto a pick-up truck.

Abdul Rahman Mustafa, Kurdish governor of Kirkuk province, vowed to hunt down those responsible.

"What are these children and women guilty of that they should be targeted? The aim of such terror attacks is to ignite strife in Kirkuk," he said.

U.S. and UN officials have sought to forge a compromise over disputed territories in northern Iraq, seen as a major threat to Iraqi security just as sectarian violence ebbs. They have had little success so far.

In August, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite Arab, and Masud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan regional government, held a rare meeting that some hoped signalled the beginning of the end to the long-running feud.

Defusing such tensions is crucial as U.S. troops, who have mediated between Kurdish and Arab leaders over the past year, prepare to withdraw entirely from Iraq by 2012.

Islamist militants are believed to exploit Kurd-Arab tensions in areas claimed by both camps to undermine security.