KIRKUK, Iraq – A suicide bomber struck outside a bank as elderly men and women waited to cash their pension checks Tuesday, killing 23 people and wounding nearly 100 in this oil-rich northern city that has become a flashpoint for sectarian tension.
Elsewhere, five Iraqi soldiers were killed and two were wounded in a suicide car bombing at a checkpoint 30 miles north of Baghdad. The bodies of 24 men – victims of recent insurgent ambushes in the west of the country – were transported to a hospital in the capital.
Also Tuesday, a U.S. soldier and a Marine were killed – the soldier when a roadside bomb hit his convoy in southern Baghdad and the Marine in combat operations near Fallujah, the military said. Two other soldiers assigned to a Marine unit died in a roadside bombing Monday in Ramadi, 60 miles west of the capital.
The violence in Kirkuk was the worst to hit the ethnically mixed city, 180 miles north of Baghdad, since the war started in March 2003. The largest previous attack was the Sept. 4 suicide car bombing outside an Iraqi police academy in the city that killed 20 people.
A man wearing a belt packed with explosives blew himself up outside the Rafidiyan Bank just after it opened Tuesday morning, Kirkuk police said.
A crowd of street vendors and elderly men and women waiting outside the bank bore the brunt of the blast, and a pregnant woman and several children were among the victims.
Al Qaeda’s northern affiliate, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, claimed responsibility for both suicide bombings in northern Iraq and threatened more violence in retaliation for the arrests and killings of Sunni Arabs.
The U.S. soldier was killed on the 230th anniversary of the formation of the U.S. Army. At least 1,705 U.S. military members have died since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
“Today is a day when we reflect on the heritage of the Army and those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, and the latest death in Baghdad is obviously a sad event on our birthday,” military spokesman Sgt. David Abrams said.
Also Tuesday, U.S. Marines and Iraqi soldiers killed five Iraqi civilians at an entrance to the volatile western town of Ramadi shortly after a suicide attack on a military checkpoint left one Iraqi soldier dead, the military said.
The attack coincided with the swearing in of veteran Kurdish guerrilla leader Massoud Barzani as the first president of Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region in nearby Irbil, 50 miles north of Kirkuk.
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