BAGHDAD — Kurdish lawmakers demanded the government step up security in northern Iraq after a suicide truck bomb flattened a neighborhood in a small village Thursday, killing 19 people and injuring 30 others in the most recent in a spate of attacks.
Two suicide truck bombers targeted the Shiite Kurdish village of Wardek, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) southeast of Mosul just after midnight.
Local security forces fired on the driver of one truck when he refused to stop, but he was still able to detonate his bomb. The second assailant in the other explosives-laden truck was shot and killed before his bomb exploded, according to local officials and villagers.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but it bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents who remain active in Mosul and surrounding areas in Ninevah province – a region where U.S. commanders have warned that insurgents appear to be trying to stoke an Arab-Kurdish conflict.
It follows several other deadly bombings in small villages of ethnic and religious minorities, indicating that insurgents are seeking out relatively undefended targets to maximize casualties as the strapped Iraqi army focuses its efforts on more central areas. Members of Iraqi minority groups are bearing the brunt of the violence.
"The ongoing terrorist and criminal acts in Ninevah are aimed again at the Kurds, Turkomen, Shiites and Yazidis – they are ethnic cleansing operations in which hundreds of innocent people have been killed," Abdul-Muhsin al-Saadoun, a lawmaker of the Kurdistan Alliance parliamentary bloc, said at a press conference in Baghdad after the attack.
"We call on the federal government to take the necessary measures to prevent further attacks, find the perpetrators and bring them to justice."
Insurgents in northern Iraq, who have maintained a stronghold in the city of Mosul, have frequently targeted remote villages and towns that depend on small local security forces for protection.
The violence that continues to plague Iraq's north and the capital has forced the government in Baghdad to acknowledge gaps in security.
In an indication of the challenges ahead in restoring confidence and security, the government of the semiautonomous Kurdish region announced the arrest of the head of neighboring Ninevah's provincial intelligence service on Thursday, Brig. Abdul-Rahman Ali, on accusations he was directly involved in the planning of an Aug. 13 bombing near Mosul.
The Interior Ministry said it was not aware of his arrest.
He is accused of involvement in a double suicide bombing that devastated a cafe packed with young people, killing 21 people, in Sinjar, a city near the Syrian border dominated by members of the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi religious group.
He was arrested after four other people being held in connection with the bombing said he had ordered the attack, the Kurdish government intelligence service said.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have identified the split between Iraq's majority Arabs and the Kurdish minority as a greater long-term threat to Iraq's stability than the Sunni-Shiite conflict.
At the heart of the dispute is the oil-rich city of Kirkuk as well as villages in Ninevah province like Wardek that the Kurds want to incorporate into their semiautonomous area despite opposition from Arabs and the minority Turkomen ethnic group.
Following the bombing, Wardek residents picked through the ruins, pulling out what possessions they could and loading them onto pickup trucks.
The villagers, Shiite Kurds from a small religious sect, blamed Sunni al-Qaida in Iraq for the attack.
"I'm certain that we were targeted by al-Qaida extremists as they consider us renegades," said one resident, 53-year-old Haso Narmo.
In violence elsewhere, three successive bombs exploded at a popular market in the city of Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad, killing four people and wounding 30, an Iraqi military officer in the area said. The officer did not want to be identified because he is not allowed to release information publicly.
Two others were killed and 20 injured when a bomb exploded in the main market of the nearby provincial capital Hillah, according to Mahmoud Adbul-Rhida, a local health official.
Associated Press writers Yahya Barzanji in Irbil and Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.