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At least 34 people died in back-to-back suicide attacks in the town of Talafar, in northern Iraq, the BBC reported. A suicide bomber blew himself up early in the morning, then a second blast ripped through the crowd that had gathered after the first.
The Associated Press reports the Talafar attacks targeted the home of an antiterrorism officer. The first blast killed the officer, along with his wife and child, at around 6:30 a.m., the news service reported.
The attacks came a day after a reputed leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, whom the Iraqi government claimed to have captured this year, issued a taped statement calling on Iraq's Sunnis to join the fight against Shiites and American troops.
The statement, which was released on the Internet and attributed to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, said attacks on American forces should continue despite the withdrawal from Iraqi cities by U.S. combat troops....
"Even if they are in one spot in the Iraqi desert, away from all forms of life, every Muslim must fight them until they are kicked out of that spot," the statement said.
Northern Iraq has increasingly become the most violent area of the country. Thursday morning's bombings followed attacks in Mosul the day before that killed at least nine. The New York Times reported that a truck bomb killed 68 in northern Iraq on June 20, the single worst attack in Iraq this year, and a car bomb killed 24 in Kirkuk on June 30.
The attacks have centered on "an oil-rich region that lies on the tense ethnic fault line between Iraq's Arabs and Kurds," the Times reported. "The area is populated largely by the Turkmen, the third largest ethnic group in Iraq after Arabs and Kurds, who have their own territorial claims in the region."
Talafar lies west of Iraqi Kurdistan (click here to see a map of the region from NPR), and less than 60 miles east of Iraq's borders with Syria and Turkey. (Click here for a detailed map from GlobalSecurity.org.)
Competing historical claims to the region by Turkmen and Kurds has fueled tensions, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).
In a 2006 report called "Iraq and the Kurds: The Brewing Battle Over Kirkuk" the ICG quoted Muzaffer Arslan, adviser on Turkmen affairs to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, as saying: "the Kurds claim Tel Afar for the same reason they claim Kirkuk, Mosul and Tuz Khurmatu. They want to take as large an area as possible to add to their Dreamland [a stock Turkoman reference to the Kurdish region]."
The ICG has warned that the region has been neglected amid broader efforts to stabilize Iraq.