Dozens Killed In Iraq Suicide Blast

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KIRKUK, Iraq - A suicide bomber struck a crowded restaurant in northern Iraq on Thursday where Kurdish officials were meeting with Arab tribal leaders to discuss long-standing ethnic tensions, killing at least 55 people, police said. It appeared to be the deadliest attack in Iraq in nearly six months.

Kirkuk, the center of Iraq's northern oil fields, has seen fewer attacks than other regions such as Baghdad but remains the focus of years of competition and political wrangling among ethnic groups with rival claims to the city.

Police Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qadir, who gave the casualty figures, said the blast occurred in the Abdullah Restaurant just north of the contested oil city. He said 120 people were wounded and that the dead included five women and three children.

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 attend a meeting with Talabani after the lunch to discuss ways to defuse tensions among Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen in the Kirkuk area.

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.

A guard at the entrance said the blast occurred moments after a man parked his car and walked inside. The man was not searched because the guards had not been told to frisk customers, he said. The guard spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears for his own safety.

At the city's main hospital, family members wept and screamed in the blood-smeared corridors as doctors tried to save lives. Many of the victims were horrifically wounded and mangled bodies of the dead lay unattended on the emergency room floor.