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                                                             At least 45 killed and 85 injured 
                                                                 in an explosion in Kirkuk


Baghdad - A suicide bomber detonated himself in a restaurant in northern Iraq on Thursday, killing 45 and injuring 85 in one of the deadliest attacks in the country this year, a security source said. General Sharhal Qader confirmed the death toll at the Abdullah restaurant in Kirkuk on the road to the Kurdish province of Arbil, to Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.  An injured Iraqi girl is rushed to a hospital in the northern city of Kirkuk, some 225 kms from Baghdad, on December 11, 2008. (Marwan Ibrahim/AFP/Getty Images)    


Footage from al-Arabiya television showed hospital scenes with women screaming and wounded children lying on beds.  The bomber exploded his suicide
belt at about 2 pm (1100 GMT), just as waiters were serving dinner to families celebrating the Muslim feast of sacrifice, Eid al-Adha, at the restaurant, witnesses said.  Many women and children died in the attack and scores others were injured at the restaurant, which had a capacity of several hundred seats.

The blast happened even though security had been especially tight in the area ahead of a scheduled visit by Iraqi President Jalaal Talabani, the general added. Talabani arrived in the city several hours after the explosion.  The attack could also have been targeted against a number of tribal chiefs and leaders from the city which had assembled in the restaurant ahead of Talabani's visit, Al-Arabija reported Kirkuk and neighbouring cities have remained hotspots of attacks, even though violence had decreased significantly across Iraq. 

                                                                       Bomb attack victims receive treatment in a hospital in Kirkuk

The multi-ethnic city has a population of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmans, and Arabs and Kurds especially fight for control over the province located near the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.  On Sunday, one policeman was killed and four were injured in two separate bomb attacks also in Kirkuk after the attacks the city's police chief tightened security ahead of the Islamic holiday.

Thursday's attack was one of the bloodiest since two female suicide bombers detonated themselves in Karbala last August claiming the lives of 20 people.  Also on Thursday, US forces in Iraq and the Iraqi government agreed to release or transfer detained Iraqis in US-run prisons from the beginning of 2009, the US military said in a statement.  Every month US forces will transfer about 1,500 detainees to Iraqi authorities, the statement said, adding the two parties had formed a mutual committee to supervise the transfer. 

                                                                                      Suicide attack inside a popular restaurant

Files of detainees would be reviewed by Iraqi authorities to decide on the future of prisoners. Some detainees would then be freed, while others would be transferred to Iraqi prisons.  US Commanding General Raymond Odierno said transferring Iraqi detainees to Iraqi authorities would give "international legitimacy to the Iraqi people."  Meanwhile Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh warned against releasing criminals, who he said could return to terrorist activities.

Some 15,800 Iraqis are currently held in US-run prisons. The number had decreased sharply from the 26,000 prisoners who were being detained at the end of 2007.  Since the beginning of 2008, some 17,800 Iraqi prisoners have been released, said the statement.  The US and Iraq signed a security deal last month that envisages the US forces to leave the country in 2011.

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