Another 80 people were wounded in the bombing in a market area of the city which has long been riven by ethnic tensions.
“The morgue received 27 bodies,” the city’s health director Dr Sabah Mohammed al-Dawoudi told AFP.
“A local hospital received 80 wounded. All of the killed and wounded are civilians, among them women, children and men. The explosion happened at the peak time for shopping.”
The blast struck at around 6 pm local time in the central Shurga district, an interior ministry official said.
The blast devastated the area, an AFP reporter at the scene said.
Kirkuk is plagued with tensions among its Kurdish, Turkmen and Arab communities. Many of the Arabs were settled in the province by executed dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime in a deliberate attempt to dilute its historic Kurdish majority.
The tensions prevented the holding of elections in the province on January 31, when the rest of Iraq except the three northern provinces that currently form a Kurdish autonomous region voted for new councils.
The bombing came as US troops pulled back from all Iraqi urban areas under a security pact signed between the two governments last November.
Biden to take new role overseeing Iraq policy
President Barack Obama has asked Vice President Joe Biden to take on a new role overseeing the US departure from Iraq and Washington’s effort to promote internal political reconciliation there.
The White House said Tuesday that Biden would work closely with General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq and US ambassador to Baghdad Christopher Hill as US forces prefer to leave for good by the end of 2011.
“The vice president has been asked by the president to oversee the policy,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs has said.
Working with Iraq
Biden would work with Iraqis “toward overcoming their political differences and achieving the type of reconciliation that we all understand has yet to fully take place but needs to take place.”
“Given his knowledge of the region, the number of times he’s been there, he’s perfectly suited for this type of role,” Gibbs said.
Biden, who was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee before becoming vice president, has made repeated trips to Iraq, and is playing a similar role overseeing a 787 billion economic stimulus package.
Gibbs said that an idea once put forward by Biden, of dividing Iraq’s Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities into a federation of autonomous zones, was not on the table for the Obama administration.
He said the vice president’s role would likely include travel to Iraq and also meetings with the key players on US Iraq policy.
Biden’s new portfolio had been rumored for several days, and Gibbs confirmed the reports on the day that US troops withdrew from the center of Iraqi cities and towns under an agreement with the Baghdad government.