|Kirkuk, a volatile mix of Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and others, sits atop some of the world's richest oil reserves [Reuters]
At least three bombs targeting security forces have exploded near government buildings in the centre of Iraq's northern oil city of Kirkuk, killing at least 29 people, mostly police officers, and wounding 80 others, officials said.
Television footage showed the twisted, burned wreckage of several cars in the street as police officers picked through the debris following the blasts on Thursday.
"There were three explosions that targeted the security forces near the local government buildings," Hassan Turan, the head of the Kirkuk provincial council, told the Reuters news agency.
"The first was a sticky bomb on a car of a police officer, followed by a car bomb targeting the police who gathered near the car," Turan said. "Afterwards there was a second car bomb that exploded in the same place."
Kirkuk is located 250km north of the capital, Baghdad.
Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad, said the death toll in these "co-ordinated car bomb attacks", the target of which appeared to be a senior anti-terrorism official, looks set to rise.
"Police are now saying that at least 29 people were killed and 80 wounded in this major bombing in what has become the most volatile city in Iraq," she said.
"Kirkuk is in the centre of the northern oilfields, and apparently during the morning rush-hour at a parking garage near the police centre a car bomb exploded followed by another bomb, those were the most causalities there.
"But that was followed by a third attack on a police convoy and according to sources that was actually targeting the head of the criminal investigation centre in Kirkuk," she said.
Kirkuk, a volatile mix of Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and others, sits atop some of the world's richest oil reserves and is a potential flashpoint as US forces prepare to withdraw from Iraq by year's end, more than eight years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
|As the deadline for US troop withdrawal draws nearer, concerns about oil-rich Kirkuk have increased [AFP]
"Kirkuk is quintessentially the disputed city: the Kurds see it as their internal homeland, they believe it has always belonged to them even though it is under Iraqi government control," our correspondent said.
"The city is claimed by Arabs as well, of course, as well as Turkmen who are a substantial population there. On top of all that it is the centre of the oilfields - it has enormous oil reserves and it has been fought over for decades.
"It is impossible to even have a census in Kirkuk to figure out exactly the ethnic composition. Now this is something the United States is particularly worried about, just a few months before they are due to leave they have actually set up what amounts to a peacekeeping force that will be pulled out of there if they leave as they are scheduled to at the end of the year," Arraf reported.
"No claims of responsibility yet so it is impossible to say whether there is an ethnic component to this. But it has become a very complicated, violent city - a ticking time bomb."