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Nov 21, 12:11 PM EST

Iraqi officials: Suicide bomber detonates pickup truck loaded with explosives in contested town, killing 32 people



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Iraqi officials: Suicide bomber detonates pickup truck loaded with explosives in contested town, killing 32 people

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BAGHDAD (AP) -- A suicide bomber detonated his pickup truck loaded with explosives, killing 32 people on Tuesday evening at a marketplace in an Iraqi town contested by both the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish regional authorities, Iraqi officials said.

The powerful explosion in Tuz Khormato also wounded at least 80 people. At least six members of Iraq's security forces were among the dead, Iraqi police and hospital officials told The Associated Press.

The town - claimed by both Iraq's central government and the country's Kurdish region - is about 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of Baghdad and historically an ethnically diverse area that is home to Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiite Turkmens. But in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq it has also witnessed outbreaks of deadly sectarian violence that have escalated following the Kurdish region's independence vote in September.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack.

When Iraqi forces retook control of Tuz Khormato along with the nearby disputed city of Kirkuk and a string of other disputed territories in October, following the controversial Kurdish independence referendum, Amnesty International reported indiscriminate attacks, looting and arson in the town.

In April 2016, clashes broke out between Kurdish fighters and the mostly Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces that were tasked by Baghdad with securing Tuz Khormato after it was taken back from the Islamic State group. The Kurdish forces and Iraqi troops, along with the Shiite militias, were allies in the fight against IS.

Shiite fighters accused the Kurdish forces of destroying homes belonging to the town's Turkmen residents. Kurdish forces in turn accused the Shiite fighters of arbitrarily detaining Sunni Arab residents. Checkpoints and sandbag barriers carved up the town, separating the two sides.

Earlier, at the height of sectarian killings in Iraq in 2007, deadly militant attacks often struck the town.

Iraq's Kurdish region and Baghdad are currently at a military and political standoff following the independence referendum. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called the vote unconstitutional and responded to the move by shutting the Kurdish region's airspace to commercial international flights and retaking disputed territories.

The backlash forced Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish region who spearheaded the referendum campaign, to effectively step down.

Kurdish officials have continued to call for dialogue with Baghdad to resolve the dispute, but al-Abadi insists the region must annul the September vote before negotiations can begin.

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