Eight schoolgirls dead

BAGHDAD (AFP) – A truck bomber carrying food supplies killed eight Iraqi schoolgirls and a baby in the northern oil city of Kirkuk on Monday as suspected Sunni militants executed 21 Shiite workers north of Baghdad.

The attacks were the latest evidence of stepped up sectarian and insurgent killings outside Baghdad where a massive US-Iraqi security crackdown, now into a seventh week, has seen American officials boast about signs of progress.

The US Defence Department said on Monday that the 30,000 additional troops sent as reinforcements to Iraq would remain in the country until at least the end of August.

Monday’s bomber blew up his truck full of flour and explosives near a girls’ primary school and police station in a Kurdish area of Kirkuk, killing 12 people, including the nine children, a hospital doctor said.

Another 178 people were wounded in the blast that took the facade off the police station and smashed through cement blocks while US troops were visiting, district police commander Major General Torhan Yussef Abdul Rahman said.

Just one policeman was among the dead. The other two victims were women, accident and emergency doctor Abdullah Mahmud told AFP.

Many of the wounded were pupils at the nearby school and local residents, after the suicide bomber blew up the truck outside the criminal investigations department in the Rahimawa district, Rahman said. Fifth-former Naz Omar, who sustained shrapnel wounds to her head and legs, described the horrific scene after the blast.

“We were at the last lesson and we heard the explosion. I saw two of my classmates sitting near the window. They fell on the floor, drenched in blood,” Omar told AFP.

“They could not speak. I was terrified. I said ‘God is Great. I need my mother. I need my father,'” she said.

Police said the suicide bomber was driving a truck packed with supplies of flour before he blew up his deadly charge, in the second such attack to unleash carnage in northern Iraq in less than a week.

Last Tuesday, at least 85 people were slaughtered when a suicide truck bomb rigged with explosives underneath sackloads of flour blew up in a Shiite area of the town of Tal Afar, prompting a revenge massacre of Sunni Arab men.

A wounded policeman said US troops had also suffered casualties in Monday’s attack but there was no immediate confirmation from the US military.

An AFP correspondent saw just-shot television footage of five wounded American troops, including two on stretchers. One had a bandaged head.

Insurgent attacks are common in Kirkuk, which sits atop a third of the country’s oil resources and is home to a fractious ethnic and sectarian mix.

Longstanding Kurdish demands for the city to be incorporated into their autonomous region in northern Iraq — strongly opposed by Arabs and Sunnis in particular — are due to be put to a referendum before the year-end.

Although US diplomats say violence has dropped 25 percent in Baghdad since a security crackdown began in February, Iraqi figures show the nationwide death toll rose by 15 percent in March as insurgents increasingly act elsewhere.

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