KIRKUK, Iraq--A truck bomb killed 67 people Saturday in this northern Kurdish city and injured more than 200 in a blast near a mosque that also leveled about 30 houses.
The attack ended months of relative calm and is almost certain to inflame ethnic tensions in the province, but there was no indication that American forces would change their plans to withdraw combat forces from the city by June 30.
Kirkuk's police chief, Maj. Salam Jalal, said most of the casualties were caused when mud homes collapsed on their occupants.
Police and civil defense forces, which include firemen, dug the dead and wounded out of the rubble with their hands, witnesses said, amid screams from victims buried and found. Many residents appeared disoriented, officials said.
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Dr. Sabah al Dawoodi, director of health in the province, said at 8 p.m. that he expected the toll of dead and wounded to rise as the process of extracting bodies from the rubble continues.
In Baghdad, 155 miles south, Col. John Robinson, the Multi-national Corps Iraq spokesman, blamed the attack on "disrupted groups of terrorists and criminals" seeking to create a perception of increased violence. In fact, he said, "the numbers of overall attacks in Iraq have remained relatively low for several months."
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the attack "an attempt to destabilize security and plant distrust in the capabilities of the Iraqi forces that are preparing to receive the responsibility after the withdrawal of the American forces from the cities."
A member of the local Tuz district council, Nathum Kehiyah, described the targeted area as "inhabited by simple people, 100 percent civilians. There are no headquarters, civilian or military, no political parties, there are no governmental departments. That is why we are all shocked at this action that was aimed at civilians with such ferocity and killed them indiscriminately, men, women and children."
Most of the casualties were Shia Turkoman, a large minority in Kirkuk Province where most people are Kurds. The prospect of control from Baghdad following the withdrawal of U.S. forces is deeply dismaying to many in Kirkuk who regard it as part of Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region in the north of the country. Moreover, Kirkuk, a city of 848,000, sits atop some of Iraq's richest oil fields.
Abdulrahman Mustafa, the provincial governor, said the motive of the bombing "was to create issues among the elements of Kirkuk, but the will to coexist and strong brotherhood are stronger than crime and criminals.
"After the explosion," he added, "all the elements of Kirkuk headed for the hospitals to donate blood and to give support and assistance." He said a special security committee would investigate the incident.
Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd himself, deplored the attack and offered compensation to affected families of $1,000 for every person killed and $300 for every person injured.
The government of neighboring Turkey said it would send an aircraft to Kirkuk on Sunday to transport those too seriously wounded to be treated locally.
Mike Tharp, executive editor of the Merced (Calif.) Sun-Star on assignment in Baghdad, and correspondent Sahar Issa contributed to this report.
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