The device detonated on Wednesday near a fuel pipeline in the Badwan area, about 15km north of Kirkuk, Iraqi police sources told Aljazeera.

 

Police Brigadier Sarhat Qadir said the explosion occurred as a group of police was trying to cordon off the area.

 

Kirkuk's chief of police, Major-General Turhan Abd al-Rahman, told Aljazeera that bomb experts were sent to defuse an explosive device found on a road north of Kirkuk.

 

"The bomb then exploded, killing 12 guards, including two officers, and injuring three Iraqi policemen," he said. 

 

"The killed people do not belong to the Iraqi police. They have been employed with civil contracts. The officers have been granted their ranks by the company overseeing oil installations protection," Abd al-Rahman said.

 

"Only three policemen were injured on Wednesday. They were at the explosion site to seal off the area and prevent people from approaching it." 

 

Baghdad explosions

 

Also on Wednesday, four blasts were reported in Baghdad.

 

A car bombing near a US military convoy seriously wounded four civilians, sources said.

 

The convoy, which included Iraqi National Guard troops, was hit near al-Amiriya, in western Baghdad, an Iraqi National Guard source said at the scene.

 

The attack on a US oil tanker
sent up columns of black smoke

The blast destroyed a US army Humvee and civilian cars, a witness said. The injured were evacuated by US helicopter.

 

Three other blasts struck US convoys in other parts of the city, including one near the international airport in western Baghdad, witnesses said.

 

In one of the blasts, a US military oil tanker was set ablaze in eastern Baghdad, witnesses said.

 

The truck was hit by a blast at 8.45am (0445 GMT) in a convoy on al-Kanat road, which cuts through eastern Baghdad and borders Sadr City, an Interior Ministry source said.

  

Separately, a police source reported an attack on a US military vehicle in the capital's Jadida district, but no further details were immediately available.

 

US military spokesmen had no immediate information about the attacks.

 

Diplomat's case

 

Iraq's former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi has assured Pakistan of his full cooperation in securing the release of a Pakistani embassy official who was seized by a group in Baghdad, a news report said on Wednesday.

 

Malik Muhammad Javed, a deputy counsellor at the Pakistani mission in Baghdad, went missing late on Saturday after leaving his residence for prayers at a nearby mosque.

 

Javed was captured after he left
his Baghdad home for prayers

 

A previously unknown group, Umar ibn al-Khattab, later claimed responsibility for the capture and demanded a ransom for the man's release.

 

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Tuesday spoke by phone with Allawi, who told him that he was taking all possible measures to secure Javed's release, according to state-run Pakistan Television.

 

Aziz's contact with Allawi came two days after Javed's captors allowed him to speak with the head of the Pakistani mission in Baghdad - the second such contact since his capture.

 

In his brief telephone conversation, Javed said he was safe.

 

Pakistan has sent its special envoy to Iraq for meeting Iraqi officials.

 

Islamabad is a key ally of Washington in its "war on terrorism" in Afghanistan, but it opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq and refused to send troops.

 

Zoellick's visit

 

Wednesday's surge in violence came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's top deputy, Robert Zoellick, arrived in the Iraqi capital on a one-day visit after Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's trip on Tuesday.

 

"Dimensions of our Iraq strategy have to have political and economic - complete reconstruction - components as well as a military component," Zoellick said on Tuesday while travelling to the Middle East.

 

Zoellick said US strategy for Iraq
should have multiple dimensions

His trip, like Rumsfeld's, was kept secret for security reasons until his entourage landed in Baghdad.

 

Speaking in the context of Zoellick and Rumsfeld's visits, Baghdad-based Iraqi journalist Hani Ashur told Aljazeera: "The delay in the formation of the new Iraqi government after much tooing and froing has made the US worried about the situation.

 

"Making matters worse are the continuing losses being suffered by US forces and the daring anti-US operations such as the recent Abu Ghraib and al-Qaim attacks".

 

"These developments have compounded Washington's dilemma, which was clear from President Bush's speech on Tuesday when he tried to justify the presence of US forces in Iraq".

 

Cause for concern

 

Furthermore, Ashuri said, all Iraqi political groups have begun to demand a timetable for US troop pullout, something that must be greatly worrying for the Americans.

 

"The Bush administration faces uncertainty in that the new government might propose some names that contradict
US interests"

Hani Ashur,
Iraqi journalist

Asked whether the Rumsfeld-Zoellick visits could be part of a US mediation effort, he said: "I do not think the US is going to play a mediatory role inasmuch as it seeks to put certain conditions with regard to who will take what responsibility in the new government".

 

"The Bush administration faces uncertainty in that the new government might propose some names that contradict US interests".

 

Referring to the recent demonstrations organised by Muqtada al-Sadr's supporters demanding a timetable for US troop withdrawal, Ashuri said the US administration could be in for surprises.