A suicide bomber rammed his car into a police patrol Thursday in northern Iraq, killing six people and wounding more than 20 — many of them children walking to school, police said.
The explosion happened around 8 a.m. in Kirkuk, an ethnically mixed city 180 miles north of Baghdad, said police Brig. Sarhad Qadir.
The city has seen a rise in violence in recent months, ahead of a planned census and referendum to determine the future of the city — whether it will join the semi-autonomous Kurdish region on its border, or remain under Baghdad's control.
The bomber's apparent target was the six-car convoy of a senior Kurdish police officer, Brig. Gen. Khattab Omar, who heads the city police department's quick response force, Qadir said.
Three of Omar's officers were killed, along with three civilians, but the commander survived with serious injuries to his chest and head, Qadir said. Omar was being evacuated to a larger hospital, he said.
Associated Press Television News footage showed a charred Iraqi humvee being towed from the scene of the blast.
Many of the 21 people wounded were children who had been walking to school when the bomber struck. APTN footage from inside a nearby hospital showed a young girl in a school uniform, drenched in blood. A child's shoe could be seen peeking out from under a tarp covering corpses — suggesting at least one of the dead civilians was a child.
Also Thursday, the U.S. military announced a U.S. soldier had been killed a day earlier in an explosion in Diyala province. Four more soldiers also were wounded in the blast, the military said.
At least 3,865 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Anti-al-Qaida fighters killed by U.S.?
Meanwhile, Iraqi officials said they were investigating whether American troops had mistakenly killed some two dozen anti-al-Qaida fighters earlier this week north of Baghdad.
Late Wednesday, a leader of one of the so-called awakening councils — Sunni tribesmen fighting to oust al-Qaida from their hometowns — told Al-Jazeera television that U.S. soldiers killed dozens of his fighters during a 12-hour battle near Taji.
"The raids continued for more than 12 hours ... despite the fact that, right from the first attack last night, we have continuously been contacting American commanders that they are hitting us, their friends," said Mansour Abid Salim of the Taji Awakening Council.
"The scene was horrible with corpses dotting the area, bodies cut into pieces by shelling," he said.
U.S. officials said American soldiers killed 25 fighters and captured 21 in a battle that began late Tuesday after gunmen were seen "in the target area" where suspected al-Qaida militants were believed hiding.
Large quantities of weapons including anti-aircraft guns and surface-to-surface missiles were seized, the U.S. said, adding that the raids targeted "senior terrorist leaders."
The U.S. has said the growth of such awakening councils have been key to a sharp drop in violence in recent months, since a U.S. troop buildup of some 30,000 reinforcements.