A suicide-bomber struck in the ethnically divided Iraqi city of Kirkuk, killing more than two dozen patrons inside a restaurant. The blast breaks a fragile calm which follows a three-day Islamic holiday.
The attack rocked a popular restaurant on the fringes of the ethnically-mixed Iraqi city of Kirkuk, where scores of Arab and Kurdish diners were killed or maimed by the suicide-bomber.
Al Arabiya television says that many of the diners at the restaurant were traveling to meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, later in the day. Deputy Kirkuk Governor Rakan Saeed says the bomber was "aiming to kill political leaders who planned to attend the meeting."
The "Abdallah" restaurant, ripped apart in the explosion, was popular with both Kurdish and Arab diners, and patrons from both groups were among the numerous casualties. Another branch of the restaurant was hit by a suicide-bombing in 2007.
Thursday was the last day of Eid al Adha holiday in Iraq, and many people were still celebrating as most businesses and shops remained closed.
The Iraqi city of Kirkuk has long been the focal point of violence between Arabs and Kurds, due to its enormous oil wealth. It was once a predominantly Kurdish city, before Saddam Hussein transplanted Arab families to the region in the 1970s and '80s.
Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group thinks that elements from al Qaida are trying to exploit the political rift between Arabs and Kurds to foment further violence.
"There have been some reports that al Qaida elements are moving into the Kirkuk area…some of these rural areas where the rule of law is absent….and so it's very likely that this is just one of a series of attempts-in this case successful-to create trouble between the communities," Hiltermann said. "I don't think that it's in any way linked to the meeting that is taking place in Erbil."
Hiltermann says ethnic tensions in the city are likely to remain for a long time.
"In Kirkuk, we have a very difficult situation, with a conflict over a city and government that has been ongoing for some time," Hiltermann said. "This conflict is not going to go away any time soon, but there are a number of processes that have been designed to address it and they have not yet come to any kind of fruition and they don't expect them to, any time soon."
Meanwhile, U.S. military officials in Iraq reported Thursday that American forces have carried out a series of raids in at least four Iraqi cities, arresting at least six alleged al-Qaida operatives.