Truck bomb kills more than 70 in northern Iraq
A truck bomb exploded as worshippers left a Shiite mosque in northern Iraq on Saturday, killing more than 70 people and wounding nearly 200 in the deadliest bombing this year.
The blast near Kirkuk, a city rife with ethnic tensions, came hours after the prime minister warned Iraqis to expect more violence as US troops withdraw from Iraqi cities by the end of this month, but he insisted the deadline will be met "no matter what happens."
The Americans already have begun pulling back combat troops from inner-city outposts in Baghdad, Mosul and other urban areas ahead of the June 30 deadline set in a security pact that calls for a full US withdrawal from Iraq by 2012.
But continued assassinations and high-profile explosions have heightened concerns that Iraqi forces are not ready to take over their own security.
Worshippers were leaving the mosque in Taza, 10 miles (20 kilometers) south of Kirkuk, following noon prayers when the truck exploded, demolishing the mosque and several mud-brick houses across the street, according to police and witnesses.
Rescue teams searched into the night to find people buried under the rubble while women begged police to let them near the site so they could search for loved ones.
The US military said it was providing generator lights and water at the site. Ambulances rushed victims to the overwhelmed hospital in Kirkuk and some victims had to be taken to nearby cities.
Three babies cried as they were placed on a single hospital bed to be treated. The death toll rose to at least 72 as more bodies were found beneath the debris, according to police and hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.
Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir of the Kirkuk police force said earlier that at least 63 people were killed and 170 were wounded, but he expected the number to rise.
Witnesses said the truck was parked across the street from the mosque and they assumed the driver was praying, although Kirkuk's police chief, Major General Jamal Tahir, said investigators were looking into the possibility it was a suicide bombing.
"The truck was parked near our house; therefore most of the victims were found beneath the debris of the houses, mostly women and children," said Ehsan Mushir Shukur, whose sister was seriously wounded and taken to the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah. He said his wife was also wounded while his sister's young son and daughter were killed.
Yellman Zain-Abideen, who was wounded by shrapnel in his hand and face, cried for his missing son who had been leaving the mosque with him when the blast occurred.
He blamed local authorities for not providing sufficient security in the mainly Turkomen area, which is surrounded by Sunni villages. "There should have been guards around the mosque, we are living in an area surrounded by enemies," he said.
AP Television News footage later showed men using pickaxes and shovels to dig dozens of graves in the cemetery behind the mosque to bury the victims.