Atul Aneja

DUBAI: A string of car bombings has killed at least 27 persons and wounded 65 in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk where sectarian tensions among ethnic Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs have been soaring.

The main attack took place in the city centre close to the offices of the two main Kurdish parties the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Eyewitnesses said the bomber inside the truck that was laden with explosives fired randomly at bystanders as he drove, before his vehicle smashed into the city criminal court building and exploded. At least 19 persons were killed and scores wounded in this attack. Eight more persons were killed in six other bombings that rocked the city on Sunday.

A car bomb on August 27 had also targeted the office of the PUK. Besides, on the same day a shrine to which the family of Iraqi President and Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani owes allegiance was attacked.

Simmering tensions

Tensions among Kurds, Turkmens and Arab residents in Kirkuk have been simmering ever since the Kurdish parties have declared their intent to determine the final status of the oil rich city. The Turkmens and the Arabs, who were settled in large numbers during the former President, Saddam Hussein's rule, have been opposing the Kurdish move to put the final status of the city to a referendum in 2007 end. They point out that the Kurds have been trying to alter the demographic character of Kirkuk by encouraging mass migrations of ethnic Kurds from the north into the city, ahead of the referendum.

Analysts say the decision to fly the Kurdish flags atop government building has also deepened the sectarian divide. There are apprehensions not only among the non-Kurdish residents, but also in neighbouring Turkey and Iran that the Kurds are seeking an independent homeland, with the help of Kirkuk's oil resources.