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Updated Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 05:56 AM

Attacks erupt in Iraq, leaving 24 dead

By ADAM SCHRECK
Associated Press

An explosives-packed vehicle driven by a suicide bomber blew up outside the offices of a major Kurdish party early Wednesday in a disputed Iraqi city, the largest in a wave of morning strikes that left at least 24 dead and scores wounded across the country.

The attacks made for Iraq's bloodiest day in two weeks. They come amid rising tensions among Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups that threaten to plunge the country back into chaos nearly a decade after the U.S.-led invasion.

While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, car bombs and coordinated attacks are favorite tactics for Sunni insurgents such as al-Qaida's Iraq branch. They seek to exacerbate divisions within Iraq in an effort to undermine the Shiite-led government.

The blast outside the Kirkuk offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party caused widespread damage, mangling cars and tearing apart storefronts. The KDP is led by Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdish region, who has frequently sparred with Iraq's central government in Baghdad.

The deputy police chief in the city of Kirkuk, Maj. Gen. Torhan Abdul-Rahman Youssef, said 11 people were killed in that attack. Another car bomb that exploded nearby killed another two people. Just over 100 were wounded in the two attacks, he said.

Kirkuk, 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Baghdad, is home to a mix of Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen, who all have competing claims to the oil-rich area. The Kurds want to incorporate it into their self-ruled region in Iraq's north, but Arabs and Turkomen are opposed.

The city is at the heart of a snaking swath of territory disputed between the Kurds, who have their own armed fighting force, and Iraq's central government.

A shootout in Tuz Khormato, another contested town along the disputed area, prompted both sides to rush troops and heavy weapons to the area in November.

On Wednesday, yet another car bomb struck the local headquarters for Kurdish security forces in Tuz Khormato, killing five and wounding 36, according to Raed Ibrahim, the head of the provincial health directorate. The town is about 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of Baghdad.

The attacks came as hundreds of mourners gathered in the western city of Fallujah to bury a prominent Sunni lawmaker assassinated by a suicide bomber on Tuesday.

The politician, Ifan Saadoun al-Issawi, was part of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, which holds some posts in Iraq's loose power-sharing government but is at the same time the main force in opposition to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration. He was also a founder of the local branch of the Sahwa, a group of Sunni Arabs who joined forces with the U.S. military to fight al-Qaida at the height of Iraq's insurgency.

Fallujah and the nearby city of Ramadi have been the scene of more than three weeks of demonstrations against the government.

A planted bomb went off as mourners gathered to mark al-Issawi's death, wounding three of them, authorities said.

Violent attacks hit other parts of the country as well.

In Baghdad, gunmen using silenced weapons killed three policemen as they were sitting in their police car, according to police and hospital officials. A roadside bomb hit a police patrol on a highway in eastern Baghdad, killing two policemen, officials said.

One policeman was killed and four others wounded when a roadside bomb struck their car in Hawija, 240 kilometers (160 miles) north of Baghdad, according to authorities.

The officials providing details of the attacks outside the disputed areas spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information to reporters.

Violence has fallen since the peak of insurgency several years ago, but lethal attacks still occur frequently.

Wednesday's attacks were the deadliest in the country since New Year's Eve, when a string of attacks in Kirkuk and other areas left at least 26 dead.

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Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed reporting.

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Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at http://twitter.com/adamschreck


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