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(photo credit: AP)
Commercial air service resumed Tuesday at Basra's international airport after rocket or mortar fire damaged the runway, a British spokesman said Tuesday. Families in the north collected the dead from a horrific bombing attack in Iraq's northern oil center.
The attack in Basra occurred Monday, causing minor damage and a one-day suspension of commercial air service, British spokesman Maj. Matthew Bird said. Flights resumed Tuesday, he added. Bird said there were no casualties.
Basra's airport is controlled by British troops who come under almost daily attacks from Shi'ite militiamen in the southern oil-producing region. The Mahdi Army of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and other Shiite factions are competing for control of the area.
To the north, families collected the bodies of relatives from hospitals in Kirkuk on Tuesday, one day after a triple bombing killed about 80 people. Others were searching debris still left on the street, hoping for clues about what happened to friends and relatives whose bodies have not been identified.
All but one of the victims died when a massive truck bomb exploded near the Kirkuk Castle and the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
It was the deadliest attack in Kirkuk, 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad, where Arabs, Turkomen and Kurds are competing for control of the city at the heart of Iraq's northern oil region.
Saman Ahmed, 35, said he was driving along the street when the blast "pushed other vehicles toward my car along with fire and shrapnel like a flood."
"The glass from my car and the other cars went into my face," he said from his hospital bed. "Now I cannot hear well because of the sound of the explosion. I saw tens of dead bodies lying on the ground."
Voters in the city are to decide whether to join the Kurdish self-ruled region in a referendum by year's end.
With three ethnic groups competing for control, violence in Kirkuk has been frequent. But Monday's blasts were on a far bigger scale than most attacks.
US and Iraqi officials have said Sunni Arab insurgents are moving farther north to carry out attacks, fleeing US offensives in and around Baghdad, including in the city of Baqouba, a stronghold of extremists on the capital's northwestern doorstep.
Maj. Gen. Jamal Tahir, the Kirkuk police chief, said he believed that US-led military operations around Baqouba pushed al-Qaida in Iraq's elements to flee to the nearest cities.
"Some of them came to Kirkuk because they have loyalists here and they started to carry out terrorist acts," he told The Associated Press.
Monday's explosions occurred just over a week after one of the Iraq conflict's deadliest suicide attacks hit a Turkomen Shiite village about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Kirkuk, killing more than 160 people.
Also Tuesday, an Iraqi army officer said suspected al-Qaida militants overnight raided a Shiite village near Muqdadiyah, 90 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad, and slaughtered inhabitants.
The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to release the information, said the attack occurred in the village of Diwailiya and that at least 10 bodies were mutilated in the hour-long raid.
He said the death toll could approach 30, but the report could not be confirmed and it was unclear whether he had seen the bodies.
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