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Crews search for survivors of worst Iraq bombing this year

POLICE and rescue crews sifted through the rubble of a mosque and dozens of flattened mud-brick homes yesterday, looking for survivors of the worst attack in Iraq this year - a truck bombing blamed on al-Qaida that killed 72 people.

Political parties said Saturday's attack against a Shiite mosque near the ethnically tense city of Kirkuk was aimed at destabilizing Iraq, which is slowly trying to return to normal after years of bloodletting.

The bombing, which wounded 163 people, came as United States troops have been withdrawing from Iraqi cities as part of a security agreement that requires all troops to leave the country by the end of 2011. US troops will fully pull out of the cities by June 30.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called for calm and said there will be no delay in the US withdrawal. He warned over the weekend that there could be attempts to destabilize the country.

Police Brigadier General Sarhat Qadir said the death toll from Saturday's attack was so high because most of the 30 homes that were damaged around the mosque were made of mud. The mosque was flattened.

"The operation has al-Qaida fingerprints," he said, adding that an investigation was ongoing. There were conflicting reports about whether the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber or if the truck was booby-trapped.

It took place in Taza, 20 kilometers south of Kirkuk, which is home to about 20,000 people - many of them Shiites from the Turkmen minority.

"It is a quiet town, but al-Qaida targeted it to try to ignite the sectarian sedition in Iraq," said Tahseen Kahaya, a member of the Islamic Turkmen party.

Sunni insurgents and terror groups such as al-Qaida remain active in northern Iraq despite security gains around the country.

"There are groups working to inflame the situation in Kirkuk, which cannot be solved without calm and constructive dialogue," the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party said.

It blamed the attack on "the enemies of Iraq and their agents who do not wish to see Iraq as a stable and calm country."

Although violence has dropped sharply in Iraq, daily attacks continue. In northern Mosul, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol yesterday killed a bystander and wounded three others, police said.


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