CAIRO — At least 15 people have been killed and dozens more injured by a truck-bomb explosion outside the main police headquarters in the sectarian and ethnically mixed Iraqi city of Kirkouk. There has been increasing political tension between Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds in Iraq.
Fire and rescue crews worked feverishly to douse flaming wreckage of burning vehicles outside Kirkouk's police headquarters, following the explosions. Most of the the multi-floor police complex was gutted by the blasts, which shattered its windows and facade. Part of an adjacent municipal building collapsed.
Iraqi government TV reported police shot and killed two other suicide-bombers, disguised as police officers, before they could detonate their explosive vests.
Police General Nasih Mohammed said police carried out a major rescue operation after the explosion.
He says civil defense crews were able to save more than 30 people who were buried under rubble at the Kirkouk city hal.
Iraqi state TV reported the attackers were hoping to free prisoners from a prison facility inside police headquarters. One of the key demands of Sunni protesters in recent weeks has been the liberation of prisoners being held arbitrarily by the government.
Hundreds of Sunni protesters are continuing a seven-week sit-in on the main square of Samarra, chanting religious slogans as speakers denounce the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.
University of Paris political science teacher Khattar Abou Diab says Prime Minister Maliki is at odds with Kurds and Sunnis in Iraq.
He says Maliki told Al-Mayadeen TV recently the region is experiencing a conflict between a Shi'ite axis allied with Iran and a Sunni axis allied with Turkey. Maliki, he points out, said he is supporting the Iran-Shi'ite axis, and has been waging a political battle with both Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq.
Abou Diab says the conflict over Kirkouk has been at the heart of the conflict, because the city is claimed by both Kurds and Sunni-Arab Turkmens.
Maliki has been in a dispute with Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani over the rights to sell oil abroad and revenues owed to the central government. Last year, he attempted to arrest Sunni Vice President Tareq al Hashemi, who fled the country. Hashemi claims the charges were fabricated.
Violence in Iraq has fallen, but a number of apparently sectarian explosions have hit the Kirkouk region in recent months. Last month, a suicide-bombing in the town of Tuz Khormatou killed dozens of mourners at a funeral in a Shi'ite mosque.