Kirkuk bomb claims four as resistance steps up pace

At least four people in Iraq were killed by a suicide bomber in a truck yesterday in the latest of a fresh burst of attacks against officials and political groups co-operating with the American occupation.

The explosion occurred outside the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Kirkuk shortly after the United States' chief occupation administrator, Paul Bremer, told an Italian newspaper that the country was "around 90 per cent quiet, normal and at peace".

Jalal Talabani, the PUK's leader, is currently head of the unpopular and ineffectual American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. He was in Turkey when the bomb went off. Although no one had claimed responsibility by nightfall yesterday, among those under suspicion is one of the party's regional rivals, Ansar al-Islam.US officials say they suspect the Islamist militant group of working with Saddam loyalists, including Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the former vice-chairman of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council. American generals have offered a $10m (£6m) reward for his capture, but many Iraqis consider him old and ineffectual.

The bomb in Kirkuk was the most powerful in a two-day flurry of bombings and shootings over a wide area. This included attacks in Baghdad, Ramadi and the Shia holy city of Karbala, as well as an assassination in Basra. The violence has spread despite two American military offensives aimed at crushing rising resistance. This month has, so far, been the bloodiest since April for the US and its allies, with the loss of about 70 soldiers.

The Americans say their crackdown is proving successful. In the Baghdad area, where Operation Iron Hammer has been under way for nearly two weeks, they said they had killed 14 insurgents, arrested 104 suspects, and smashed what they termed the "636 cell", which they accused of firing tockets at Baghdad's Rashid Hotel while the US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, was inside.

The Kirkuk suicide bomb was the third assault within 24 hours in which Iraqis who have been willing to work with the Americans have been attacked. Two people were killed late on Wednesday in Ramadi, a centre of guerrilla activity 60 miles west of Baghdad, after a car bomb exploded outside the home of the leader of one of the largest Sunni Muslim tribes in Iraq, Sheik Amer Ali Suleiman.

He is a member of the city council and he has reportedly been co-operating with the Americans. On the same day, a bomb exploded outside a primary school in Karbala, killing at least two children.

And the body was recovered in Basra of Sargoun Nanou Murado, another local pro-American politician who was abducted on his way to work. He was an Assyrian member of the 25-seat Governing Council. It was the second assassination of this kind this week: on Tuesday, gunmen killed a senior education official working with the occupation authorities in the town of Diwaniyah.

In a further setback, the US-appointed governor of Fallujah, one of the largest focal points of anti-American sentiment and guerrilla attacks, abruptly resigned yesterday.

And in Baghdad two gunmen opened fire before dawn outside the new embassy of Jordan, killing an Iraqi security guard. On 7 August, a car bomb outside the embassy in Baghdad killed at least 19 people.

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