Car bombs have ripped through the oil-rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk, killing seven and wounding up to 80 people in the heart of a region of long-simmering ethnic tensions.
The blasts struck outside the headquarters of the Kurdish intelligence forces known as the Asayish, on a highway and near a petrol station in southern Kirkuk, located 180 miles north of Baghdad.
Television news footage showed police cars with blaring sirens racing to the Asayish headquarters when a second explosion went off in the area, going off near a taxi and knocking people to the ground. The sounds of gunshots could be heard immediately after the 10am blast.
Police spokesman Sarhat Qadir said seven were killed and up to 80 wounded in the explosions. He said the bomb along the highway targeted a police patrol led by a top commander, Colonel Ahmed Shamerani, but he was not hurt in the blast.
Dr Khalid Ahmed of Kirkuk emergency hospital confirmed the casualty count.
Kirkuk is the epicentre of ethnic tensions among Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen. The city also sits on top of one-third of Iraq’s estimated 11 trillion US dollars in oil reserves, and Arabs fear the Kurds want to annex Kirkuk to their northern autonomous region.
The regional tensions have stalled a long-awaited national census that would determine the real numbers of the country’s religious and ethnic groups. But the count also could inflame the larger dispute over territory and oil between Iraq’s central government and the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north.
Earlier, two minor bombings that appeared to target police wounded six people in the Iraqi capital.
The first blast wounded four outside the al-Ansar mosque in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City as a police patrol passed by. A few minutes later, the second bomb exploded on the nearby Mohammed al-Qasim highway. Officials said two policemen who were on patrol were hurt.
Violence across Iraq has dropped dramatically from just a few years ago, but bombings and shootings still occur almost every day.