Eight killed in north Iraq car bombs

Three near-simultaneous car bombs killed at least eight people in the ethnically-divided northern city of Kirkuk on Wednesday, attacks blamed on Sunni militant group Ansar Al-Islam.

Dozens of others were wounded in the triple blasts at around 10:25 am (0725 GMT) in the west of the oil-rich city, which is at the centre of a major land dispute between Iraq's central government and its autonomous Kurdish region.

"We are certain that this terrorist group, Ansar Al-Islam, is behind this attack," Kirkuk province police chief Major General Jamal Taher Bakr told AFP.

"Our security forces will punish that group, because they have targeted all the people of Kirkuk. They are trying to raise sectarianism but they will fail, as they failed before."

Bakr said the three explosions killed eight people and left 104 others wounded. Sadiq Omar Rasul, the head of the province's health department, earlier put the toll at eight killed and 68 injured.

The police chief said the three blasts included a car bomb driven by a suicide attacker which struck the office of asayesh forces, or Kurdish internal security, loyal to the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani.

He said the second car bomb struck a police patrol in the same west Kirkuk neighbourhood as the first, while a third vehicle packed with explosives detonated nearby targeting the convoy of a senior police officer.

Police Major Salam Zangana, who said eight people were killed and 83 wounded in the attacks, added that a woman, a child and two policemen were among the dead.

Ansar al-Islam is a Sunni militant group created in 2001 by veterans of the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan and had its headquarters in Iraqi Kurdistan, near the border with Iran.

Shortly before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, US special forces and fighters from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan fought Ansar al-Islam, whose fighters fled their headquarters.

In September 2003, many Ansar al-Islam members formed the soon-to-be renowned militant group Ansar al-Sunna.

Kirkuk, 240 kilometres (150 miles) from Baghdad, is populated by a mix of Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, and is the capital of the province of the same name.

It is at the centre of a tract of disputed territory claimed by the central government in Baghdad as well as Kurdish authorities in the north, who want it incorporated into their autonomous region.

US military officials have said the unresolved land dispute is a key threat to Iraq's future stability, and tensions across the area have led some analysts to dub the border between the two sides the "trigger line."

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