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Fri 12 Dec 2008 01:21 PM

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At least 55 killed in Iraq restaurant explosion

Another 95 wounded after suicide bomb attack near northern city of Kirkuk.

At least 55 people were killed and 95 were wounded in a suicide bomb attack in a restaurant near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on the final day of the annual Feast of the Sacrifice holiday.

Families lunching at the "Abdullah" restaurant were among the victims of the deadliest attack in Iraq for nearly six months.

Local tribal leaders and representatives of Iraq's President Jalal Talabani, who is Kurdish, were meeting at the restaurant, but they escaped injury as they were in a different room, though four bodyguards were hurt, Sheikh Ali Hussein al-Juburi told AFP.

The blast hit the roadside restaurant 15 kilometres (nine miles) north of Kirkuk and 255 kilometres (160 miles) from Baghdad, police officer Salam Zengana told AFP.

The Abdullah, which was bustling at the time of the blast, is well known for welcoming people from all local communities - Sunnis, Kurds, Christians and Turkmen, although the area is controlled by Kurdish peshmerga fighters.

"At least 55 people were killed and 95 injured in the attack," according to Torhane Yussef, deputy chief of Kirkuk police.

Waiter Abbas Fadhel said a suicide bomber activated an explosives belt in the middle of the restaurant. An AFP journalist saw victims were lying on the ground with blood on their faces.

Police appealed for blood donors as the wounded were taken to Kirkuk's main hospital, where Doctor Mohammed Abdallah told AFP: "More and more victims are arriving."

Outside the emergency room, a five-year-old boy was crying, saying he had lost both of his parents.

Reskiya Oji, a 49-year-old Turkmen who was wounded in the arm and the leg, said from a hospital bed that her daughter, four, had been killed.

"I don't know what happened to my two boys," she added, her clothes drenched in blood.

Rezkar Mahmoud, a 24-year-old Kurd with a leg injury, said he had been having lunch with his father, wife and children.

"The restaurant was full when the bomb exploded. It sent glass flying and destroyed the walls. I don't know where my children and my father are."

The oil-rich Kirkuk province, with 900,000 inhabitants, is ethnically mixed, but the Kurds have demanded that it be added to their autonomous region in the country's north.

Bomb attacks have continued regularly in the province, although the number of violent incidents in Iraq as a whole has dropped sharply this year.

On December 1, police found 12 bodies in a village south of Kirkuk. They had been riddled with bullets and incinerated, Jamal Taher Bakr, the provincial police chief, told AFP.

A month earlier, on November 2, two children were killed and two others wounded when a bomb exploded as they played on wasteland south of Kirkuk.

On October 18, a member of the Kurdistan regional security forces died and three Iraqi policemen were wounded in violence in Kirkuk province.

Thursday's bomb attack was the bloodiest in Iraq since June 17, when 63 people were killed and 75 wounded by a car bomb in Baghdad's Al-Hurriya district.

It comes a few days after the Iraqi presidency, headed by Talabani, gave final approval to a new security pact with the United States under which American combat troops will leave urban areas by the end of June next year and exit Iraq altogether by the end of 2009.

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