* Truck suicide bomber and gunmen on rampage in Kirkuk
* Third major attack near city in a month
* Area is at heart of oil and land dispute
(Adds comments from police, colour, details)
KIRKUK, Iraq, Feb 3 (Reuters) - At least 33 people were
killed in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Sunday when a suicide
bomber detonated a truck packed with explosives outside a police
headquarters and gunmen disguised as officers tried to storm the
The blast was the third major attack in weeks in or near the
multiethnic city of Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, at the heart of a
dispute between Iraq's central government and the autonomous
Police said the bomber triggered the huge blast near a side
entrance to the police building, demolishing part of a
government office nearby.
"A suicide bomber driving a vehicle packed with explosives
hit the entrance of the headquarters and after the blast gunmen
in explosive vests attacked with AK47s and grenades, but the
guards killed them," a police official said.
Guards and emergency workers dragged bloodied survivors onto
stretchers amid the wreckage of the blast, which left a large
crater in the street.
Police said 33 were killed, including 12 employees at the
government office. But a health official said only 16 bodies
were at a hospital morgue and more than 90 were wounded.
The attack comes as insurgents linked to al Qaeda try to
inflame sectarian conflict in Iraq, where a power-sharing
government split among Shi'ite majority, Sunni and ethnic Kurds
has been in crisis since the last U.S. troops left a year ago.
Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is facing mass
protests from Sunni Muslims in western provinces calling for him
to step down, complaining of marginalisation since the fall of
In the north, the premier is also caught in a tense standoff
with the country's autonomous Kurdish enclave over control of
oil wealth and land along the so-called "disputed territories"
where both regions claim control.
Kirkuk, 170 km (100 miles) north of the capital, is at the
heart of the dispute. Last year Baghdad and the Kurdistan
regional government sent rival forces to towns close to the
Several armed groups are active in Kirkuk, and Sunni
Islamist insurgents linked to al Qaeda often attack security
forces in an attempt to undermine Maliki's government and stoke
Al Qaeda's local wing, Islamic State of Iraq, though
weakened after years of war with American troops, has benefited
from the inflow of Sunni Islamists and arms into Syria where
Sunni rebels are fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
Suicide bomb attacks are the hallmark of the Iraqi al Qaeda
wing, and the group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing
that killed a Sunni lawmaker last month in Falluja.
But Kirkuk has also been home to the Naqshbandi army or
JRTN, one of several insurgent groups made up of former soldiers
and members of Saddam's outlawed Baath party.
Iraqi Arabs, Kurdistan's government and Kirkuk's minority
Turkmen all lay claim to the city, known to some as the
"Jerusalem of the Kurds" - a reference to its historically
Last month a suicide bomber disguised as a mourner killed at
least 26 at a funeral at a Shi'ite mosque in the nearby city of
Tuz Khurmato, and days earlier a suicide bomber driving a truck
killed 25 in an attack on a political party office in Kirkuk.
The level of violence in Iraq is lower than at the height of
sectarian slaughter in 2006-2007, when tens of thousands died.
But more than 4,400 people were killed last year in attacks and
bombings, the first increase in deaths in three years.
(Additional reporting by Omar Mohammed in Kirkuk and Ahmed
Rasheed in Baghdad; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Andrew