BAGHDAD: A suicide bomber struck Thursday inside a popular
restaurant in northern Iraq where Kurdish officials were meeting with Arab tribal leaders, killing at least 45 people and wounding nearly 100, police said.
Brigadier General Sarhad Qadir, commander of the Kirkuk police, said 93 people were wounded in the blast, which occurred in the Abdullah Restaurant just north of the contested oil city of Kirkuk.
A Kurdish official said Arab tribal leaders were having lunch with members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party of President Jalal Talabani. They were to have been driven to a meeting with Talabani after the lunch.
The restaurant was also packed with families celebrating the final day of the Eid al-Adha religious holiday. It is affiliated with another Kirkuk restaurant of the same name, which was attacked by a car bomb in 2007 that killed six people and wounded 25.
At the city's main hospital, family members wept and screamed in the blood-smeared corridors as doctors sought to save the lives of victims, many of whom bore horrific wounds. Mangled bodies of the dead lay unattended on the emergency room floor.
Kirkuk, the center of Iraq's northern oil fields, has been the scene of long-standing ethnic tension.
The Kurds want to annex Kirkuk and surrounding Tamim province into their self-ruled region in northern Iraq. Most Turkomen and Arabs want the province to remain under central government control, fearing the Kurds would
discriminate against them.
Last July, a suicide bomber killed 25 people at a Kurdish political rally in Kirkuk. Angry bystanders stormed the headquarters of a Turkomen party, torching the building and nearby parked cars.
Elsewhere, the U.S. military said Thursday that American troops launched raids in at least four Iraqi cities, detaining six people believed to be associated with al-Qaida in Iraq.
A U.S. statement said two men were detained Wednesday in a pair of raids near Tarmiyah, 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Baghdad.
Two others were captured Thursday in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province west of Baghdad, the statement said. The two others were arrested Thursday, one in Mosul and the other in Baghdad, the U.S. said.
U.S. troops have broad authority under a U.N. mandate to apprehend people deemed a security threat and hold them indefinitely without charge.
However, the mandate expires at the end of this month and will be replaced by a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement that requires the U.S. to obtain warrants to search houses or detain people except in active combat.
The new regulations will be part of a series of major changes in the five-year U.S.-led mission.
Britain announced Wednesday it will withdraw all but a handful of its 4,000 soldiers from Iraq next year. The U.S. is expected to shift a brigade to Basra in southern Iraq, where most of the British forces are located, to ensure the security of supply lines into the country from Kuwait.
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has called for withdrawing all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by early 2010, shifting responsibility to the Iraqis for the defense of the country against Sunni and Shiite extremists.