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Bombing in Kirkuk injures schoolgirls near police building

12 die, 130 hurt in Kurdish region of Iraq

Injured Iraqi girls were treated yesterday at a hospital in Kirkuk, Iraq, after shrapnel was sprayed onto the grounds of a school. (Emad Matti/associated press)

BAGHDAD -- Dozens of schoolgirls were injured and at least one of their classmates killed yesterday when a truck bomb used to target a police compound in the northern city of Kirkuk sprayed flaming shrapnel onto the grounds of their primary school just as classes were letting out.

At least 12 people died and more than 130 were hurt in the bombing, the latest in a series of attacks that have hit Iraqi provincial cities and towns amid a security crackdown in the capital.

This one targeted a predominantly Kurdish area, in contrast to a series of lethal bombs last week aimed primarily at Shi'ite Muslim districts and towns, which killed hundreds.

The attack came amid debate over a government plan to relocate Arab residents of Kirkuk who settled there during a campaign by Saddam Hussein that was meant to dilute the strength of its dominant ethnic group, the Kurds. Now Kurds want the oil-rich northern city to become part of their autonomous region just to the north, but Sunni Arabs and others have objected.

Elsewhere in Iraq, bombings and other attacks killed at least 11 people and injured scores yesterday. Several strikes, including two deadly car bombings, took place in Baghdad, where an ongoing buildup of US troops has been concentrated to stem sectarian violence.

In a grisly discovery, Iraqi authorities found the bound and gunshot-riddled bodies of 19 men abducted a day earlier at a fake checkpoint set up by insurgents near Baqubah, about 25 miles north of Baghdad.

Also yesterday, prosecutors in the trial of six former senior officials in Hussein's government demanded the death penalty for Hussein's cousin, Ali Hassan Majid, who became known as "Chemical Ali" following poison gas attacks against ethnic Kurds.

Hussein was hanged Dec. 30 on charges of crimes against humanity stemming from a separate case, and many Kurds felt cheated of the opportunity to force the former leader to answer to genocide. Up to 180,000 ethnic Kurds were killed in the 1980s government campaign against them.

The trial was adjourned until April 16, when the defense will make closing arguments.

The truck bombing in Kirkuk took place in the northern neighborhood of Rahim Awa, just outside a police compound that houses a special criminal-investigations unit and abuts the girls' primary school. Sarwa Tahseen, 10, who was slightly wounded, described hearing a deafening explosion as she left her classroom.

"The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground with my injured classmates all around me," she said.

About 50 of the 137 people hurt in the blast were pupils from the girls' school, several of whom were critically injured, hospital officials said. Passersby picked up injured children and helped rush them to the hospital.

"When [police] realized we wanted to help the victims and saw the horrible situation, they let us through," said Rizgar Ahmed, a government worker. "I took four or five children to the hospital in my car."

Kamiran Shwani, who has a shop near the blast site, said, "I carried one child to an ambulance. My clothing is still covered in her blood."

The bombers echoed a tactic used in a double truck bombing last week in Tal Afar -- the worst attack of the war, by Iraqi government reckoning, with 152 dead -- by hiding the explosives under bags of flour, police said. That probably helped the truck swiftly pass through checkpoints around the city.

Iraqi officials said the principal target in the Kirkuk blast might have been American troops who were visiting the police compound at the time. However, nearly all the deaths and injuries were outside the compound. the truck exploded when the driver of the vehicle rammed it into the blast barriers surrounding the installation.

The number of injuries and their severity overwhelmed local hospitals and clinics in Kirkuk. Doctors put out calls for blood donations.

Iraqi witnesses and officials, meanwhile, said a car bomb hit a US patrol on the highway between Ramadi and Fallujah in Anbar Province, west of Baghdad. The US military, which reported the deaths of six soldiers in roadside bombs over the weekend, had no immediate comment.

In a grim statistic that has become a benchmark for sectarian violence in Baghdad, the bodies of 14 men were delivered to the morgue yesterday after being found dumped in various parts of the city. The Bush administration has invested enormous political capital in the current troop buildup , hoping to prevent all-out civil war in Iraq.