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In the dust of a suicide bomber

After bomb destroys mosque, Taza residents look for answers amid rubble.

An Iraqi boy sits in the ruins of his house after a suicide bomb attack in Kirkuk, 155 miles north of Baghdad, June 21, 2009. (Ako Rasheed/Reuters)

Nermeen al-Mufti is a Kirkuk-based Iraqi journalist and the editor and founder of an Arabic-language Turkmen daily. She has been covering Iraq since the 1980s, when she was on the front lines of the Iran-Iraq war. This dispatch is from the site of the biggest suicide bombing in more than a year in Iraq. A truck bomb detonated Saturday near a mosque south of Kirkuk, killing more than 80 people.

TAZA KHORMATU, Iraq — The main road to Kirkuk was crowded with ambulances, cars and pickup trucks speeding to the hospital with the wounded and dead as I drove into Taza an hour after the blast.

On my car radio, the Turkmen station began asking people to come and donate blood. I’ve covered and lived with war since the 1980s but couldn’t imagine the disaster I was going to face when I arrived.

I reached the entrance of the town, which used to be a favorite picnic area for families from Kirkuk in the spring. Instead of family cars, there were dozens of Iraqi and American military vehicles. I left my car near a police checkpoint and got out to walk.

With the first step, the scene came into view. Among the shattered glass and broken doors, vegetables were strewn on the ground, evidence that it had initially been a normal Saturday in the shops of the Ashora neighborhood.

Taza is a quiet town and most of the residents are part of Iraq's Turkmen community. "Why" is just a three-letter word, but on this day it was an unanswerable cry heard constantly from relatives and survivors.

The first person I met was Majeed Izzet, the Turkmen member of Kirkuk's provincial council, who lives in Taza. He could barely believe it. “The bombing is a disaster,” he said. “The killers chose the time to attack while the farmers and shops owners were on their way to their houses for lunch."

Yashar Abbas, a high school student, interrupted: "Not only the farmers and shop owners; it was noon, and dozens of people were leaving al-Rasul mosque after finishing noon prayers.” The mosque and the Turkmen community in this town are Shiite.

Police said it was the deadliest attack in 16 months. More than 80 people were killed and more than 200 wounded. The mosque and 20 houses were demolished; another 40 houses were badly damaged.

Waiting for the rescue teams, a woman sat near the demolished houses. Tears welled in her eyes. She told me that her family — her father, two sisters, two brothers with their wives and eight children — were buried under the rubble.

She came running when she heard the blast. It was so strong it shattered the windows of her own house across town.