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Car bomber kills 18 in north Iraq city of Kirkuk

BAGHDAD, Wednesday (Reuters) A suicide car bomb blast killed 18 people, including 10 police, in the northern city of Kirkuk on Tuesday, and mortars landed near the U.S. ambassador to Iraq during a ceremony in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

The bomber detonated his explosives-laden car next to a group of police vehicles on the main road leading south from Kirkuk to Baghdad shortly after sunset. Police Colonel Borhan Tayyib Taha said 28 people were wounded in the blast.

Ambulances ferried the worst cases to hospitals in Kirkuk, where distraught relatives gathered to search for loved ones.

Police said they expected the toll to rise as many of those injured were badly wounded.

Kirkuk is a mixed Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen city that has seen frequent episodes of violence, some the result of tensions between the separate communities, all of whom claim ownership of the city, which lies close to vast oil reserves.

The blast follows a string of suicide bombs across the country in the past five days in the build up to elections set for Dec. 15. At least 180 people have been killed since Friday, including 77 Shi'ite Muslims blown up in twin suicide bombings on mosques in the mixed Kurdish and Shi'ite city of Khanaqin.

Tuesday's attack came hours after insurgents fired two mortars at a complex of palaces built by Saddam in Tikrit, where U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was attending a ceremony handing the palaces back to the Iraqi government.

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