BAGHDAD (AP) — Bombings rattled two cities in disputed areas in Iraq's north on Sunday, killing at least eight people and raising concerns that extremists are trying to exploit ethnic tensions in the country.
The deadliest series of blasts struck Shiite Muslim targets in the disputed northern city of Kirkuk. Police Major Imad Qadir, who is responsible for the Kirkuk city hospital's security, said those attacks killed six people and wounded 36.
Kirkuk is 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Baghdad and is home to a mix of Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen. Each of the ethnic groups has 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 center of a broader dispute between Iraq's central government and the Kurdish minority over contested areas where both seek influence. Tension between Kurds and the central government has flared in recent months.
Kirkuk Police Brig. Turhan Khalil said the evening blasts happened within minutes of each other. The targets included two Shiite mosques and a television station identified with the Muslim sect, he said.
Himdad Ali, 36, a car repair shop employee, said he was watching TV when explosions rocked the nearby Imam Ali mosque, one of the targeted holy sites.
"People were panicking, and the whole area was in total darkness because the electricity was cut," he said. "Today's explosions showed to us that we shouldn't even dream of peace in this country."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Bombings targeting Shiite sites are typically the work of Sunni Arab extremists.
Earlier in the day, an explosion near the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan political party office in Jalula killed two and wounded five, police officials said. Jalula is also in the disputed territories and is some 125 kilometers (80 miles) northeast of Baghdad.
Both Arabs and Kurds claim Jalula, and a local policeman said the violence resulted from ongoing tensions between the two ethnic groups. He did not elaborate.
Medics in nearby hospital confirmed the Jalula casualties. All officials in the two spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details to journalists.
The PUK is headed by the Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, who announced a plan last week aimed at easing the military standoff between the central government and Kurdish authorities.
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed reporting.
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