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Bomb kills at least 8 in Iraq's disputed Kirkuk

KIRKUK (Reuters) - A car bomb killed eight members of a single family on Wednesday in Kirkuk, the city at the heart of a bitter feud between Iraq’s Arabs and minority Kurds.

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The blast occurred near the home of an Arab leader of one of the pro-government local militia known as ‘Awakening’ councils, in the eastern part of the city, police said.

Major-General Jamal Taher Bakr, Kirkuk’s police chief, said a displaced family from Iraq’s Diyala province further south had been taking refugee in the house when it was hit.

The blast reduced to rubble at least one building, from which police and local residents pulled bodies after the blast. As distraught residents looked on, they wrapped corpses in bed sheets or mats and put them on the back of a pick-up truck.

Police and hospital sources said at least two people were wounded in the attack in Kirkuk, Iraq’s northern oil hub, which lies 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad. At least one woman and a child were among the dead, they said.

Abdul Rahman Mustafa, a Kurdish politician who is governor of Kirkuk province, vowed to hunt down those responsible.

“What are these children and women guilty of that they should be targeted? The aim of such terror attacks is to ignite strife in Kirkuk,” he said.

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Kirkuk, like other parts of northern Iraq, has been seen as a haven for Sunni Islamist al Qaeda, blamed for most of the big bombings in Iraq, after the militant group was squeezed out of Baghdad and western Anbar province.

The city of Kirkuk and its surrounding province is one of the more violent areas of the country. Last month, a bomb near a crowded market killed five people and wounded 30 there.

Home to a volatile mix of ethnic Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, it is also the scene of a bitter showdown between the Arab-led government in Baghdad and leaders in the largely autonomous Kurdistan region who claim Kirkuk as an ancestral homeland.

U.S. and U.N. officials have sought to forge a compromise over Kirkuk, seen as a major threat to Iraqi security just as sectarian violence ebbs, but with little success so far.

In August, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite Arab, and Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan regional government, held a rare meeting that some hoped signaled the beginning of the end to the long-running feud over land and oil.

Defusing such tensions is especially important as American troops, who have mediated between Kurds and Arabs over the past year, prepare to withdraw entirely from Iraq by 2012.

Islamist militants are believed to exploit Kurd-Arab tensions in areas claimed by both camps to undermine security.

Additional reporting by Sherko Raouf in Sulaimaniya; writing by Missy Ryan; Editing by Mark Trevelyan