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Bombing near Sunni mosque in northern Iraq kills 12 worshippers, wounds 24

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BAGHDAD - A bomb ripped through a crowd of Sunni worshippers coming out of a mosque in northern Iraq after prayers at the start of a major Muslim holiday on Tuesday, killing 12 people and wounding 24, Iraqi officials said.

The attack took place in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, 290 kilometres (180 miles) north of Baghdad, said Police Col. Taha Salaheddin.

The bomb went off as worshippers were leaving the al-Qodus mosque after morning prayers for the beginning of the Eid al-Adha holiday, Salaheddin said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack and police sealed off the area around the mosque. Medics in the Kirkuk General Hospital confirmed the casualty figures, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Kirkuk provincial police chief, Brig. Gen. Jamal Tahir Bakir said that security measures had been stepped up, especially on the entrances to the city.

"Our security forces have taken all the necessary measures within our capabilities to protect the people during Eid, but unfortunately, terrorists were able to penetrate the city and strike innocent people once again," he said.

Kirkuk, a frequent flashpoint for violence, is home to an ethnic mix of Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen who all have competing claims to the oil-rich city.

More than 5,000 people have been killed in Iraq since al-Qaida and other militants stepped up attacks following a deadly security crackdown against a Sunni protest camp in April.

The surge has sparked fears that the country could see a new round of widespread sectarian bloodshed similar to that which brought the country to the edge of civil war in 2006 and 2007.

Much of the violence tearing through Iraq is the work of the local al-Qaida branch, a Sunni extremist group, which frequently carries out attacks against Shiites and those seen as linked to the Shiite-led government.

But several Sunni mosques have also been targeted in recent months and while it is possible that Sunni insurgents could be behind attacks on Sunni mosques in hopes of stoking sectarian hatred, Shiite militias that have begun remobilizing across Iraq may also be behind such assaults.

Tuesday's attack came despite tight security measures imposed by security forces ahead of the four-day Eid al-Adha celebrations. Authorities announced that the number of security checkpoints would be increased around Iraqi cities and especially near amusement parks and mosques, which traditionally expect crowds during the holiday.

The Eid al-Adha holiday commemorates the readiness of the Prophet Ibrahim, known to Christians and Jews as Abraham, to sacrifice his son, Ismail, on God's command.

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