Kirkuk: the worst violence since the war started

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 wounded in a suicide car bombing at a checkpoint in Kan'an, 30 miles north of Baghdad, and the bodies of 24 men - victims of recent insurgent ambushes in the west of the country - were transported to a hospital in the capital.

And an American soldier was killed when a roadside bomb hit his convoy in southern Baghdad, the military said, adding that two other soldiers assigned to a Marine unit died in a similar attack Monday in &to=http:// ' target=_blank>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, tells the Guardians Unlimited.

Bombings of large groups of civilians have happened only sporadically in this war, and the &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Kirkuk assault aroused fears of a new and troubling phase of the violence.

Kirkuk, which sits atop some of Iraq's richest oil fields, is coveted by the country's major ethnic and sectarian groups, and for that reason is considered the most politically precarious city in Iraq.

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