Six killed, 6 wounded in Kirkuk car bomb blast

(Updates death toll)

KIRKUK, Iraq, Nov 16 (Reuters) - A car bomb exploded in a crowded market place in northern Kirkuk on Monday, killing at least six people and wounding six others, Iraqi police and hospital sources said.

"Many cars were set ablaze and many shops heavily damaged due to the powerful explosion," said police Major General Torhan Abdul-Rahman, deputy police chief for the city.

Violence has dipped sharply in Iraq over the past 18 months but attacks remain common in volatile areas like the oil city of Kirkuk, the northern city of Mosul and in Baghdad.

Kirkuk is one of several flashpoints between Iraq's Arab-led government in Baghdad and minority Kurds that U.S. officials fear could lead to renewed conflict in Iraq.

Kurds see the city and surrounding province, which lies over one of Iraq's longest producing oilfields, as their ancestral home and want it wrapped into their semi-autonomous enclave. The city's Arab and Turkmen populations fiercely oppose those aims.

The tensions between both sides are often exploited by insurgent groups trying to reignite the sectarian warfare that almost tore Iraq apart.

Disagreements over Kirkuk held up the parliamentary passage of a law needed to ensure Iraq's next general election takes place in January, threatening to delay the vote.

The election law was passed just over a week ago in an emotional session, but has since fallen foul of complaints by Sunni Arab Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi that it doesn't give Iraqi refugees abroad a voice.

Hashemi has until mid-week to veto the electoral law or let it pass. (Reporting by Mustafa Mahmoud; Writing by Deepa Babington; Editing by Charles Dick)