BAGHDAD, (AP) — A suicide truck bomber hit a residential area of a Kurdish village in northern Iraq before dawn Thursday, killing at least 19 people and injuring 30 others, officials said, in what appeared to be the latest in a string of ethnic attacks in the region.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but it bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents who remain active in Mosul and surrounding areas.
A police officer and health official in Mosul said the bomb went off around 12:30 a.m. in the village of Wardek, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) southeast of the city — a region where U.S. commanders have warned that insurgents appear to be trying to stoke an Arab-Kurdish conflict.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
The blast took down a number of houses and the casualty toll was expected to rise because many people are still missing in the rubble, the officials said.
Local security forces intercepted a second suicide truck bomber, killing the driver and defusing the bomb before it could be detonated, they said.
Insurgents in northern Iraq, who have maintained a stronghold in the city of Mosul, have frequently targeted remote villages and towns that depend on small security forces for protection.
The violence that continues to plague Iraq’s north and the capital has forced the government in Baghdad to acknowledge gaps in security.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have identified the split between Iraq’s majority Arabs and the Kurdish minority as a greater long-term threat to Iraq’s stability than the Sunni-Shiite conflict.
At the heart of the dispute is the oil-rich city of Kirkuk as well as villages in Ninevah province like Wardek that the Kurds want to incorporate into their semiautonomous area despite opposition from Arabs and the minority Turkomen ethnic group.
After a series of horrific bombings last month, U.S. commanding Gen. Ray Odierno proposed deploying American soldiers alongside Iraqi and Kurdish troops to patrol the areas.
At the time, Odierno warned that al-Qaeda in Iraq was exploiting tensions between the Iraqi army and the Kurdish militia, the peshmerga, to carry out attacks. He said al-Qaeda was targeting minorities, small towns that don’t have a police force and other so-called soft targets to avoid heavy security concentrated in more central areas.
No decision has yet been announced on the suggestion of joint patrols.
The move to deploy U.S. troops there would represent a step back from a security pact under which Americans pulled out of populated areas — including cities, villages and localities — by June 30.
Odierno has said he does not expect that the proposal would affect the overall withdrawal timeline, which calls for U.S. combat forces to leave the country by the end of August 2010 and a full withdrawal by the end of 2011. He said the pullout would be slower in the north than in other parts of the country.