A double suicide bombing devastated a cafe packed with youths Thursday in northwestern Iraq, killing at least 21 people and injuring at least 32, officials said, in the latest attack against a minority community.
The blasts came in a deadly week in which nearly 150 people have been killed in bombings concentrated in and near the volatile northern city of Mosul and in Baghdad, heightening fears that Sunni Arab insurgents are stepping up efforts to stoke ethnic and sectarian tensions.
The two bombers struck in Sinjar, a city dominated by members of the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi religious group that is concentrated near the Syrian border.
It came two years after a village near Sinjar was hit by one of the worst insurgent attacks since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Four suicide truck bombers exploded almost simultaneously in Qahtaniya on Aug. 14, 2007, killing as many as 500 Yazidis.
The bombers detonated their explosives shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday in the Ayoub cafe, which was packed with people drinking tea and playing dominoes.
City officials imposed a curfew and said some of the most seriously wounded were evacuated to hospitals in the nearby semiautonomous Kurdish region.
"What has happened this afternoon is a catastrophe," said municipal council member Meiysar Subhi. "Young people were murdered while they were just trying to have a nice time."
Tensions are especially acute along the sensitive fault line of territory disputed by Kurds and Arabs where the Yazidis live. Kurdish checkpoints guard entrances to Sinjar, and the city's mayor, Dakhil Qassim Hassoun, recently called for it to be incorporated into the Kurdish territory.
Several top U.S. Defense officials have identified the split between Iraq's majority Arabs and the Kurdish minority as probably a greater long-term threat to Iraq's stability than the more familiar Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict.
They have warned that a struggle between the Arabs and Kurds over land and oil could explode into a new front in the Iraq conflict even as overall levels of violence decline, -- a dangerous prospect as U.S. forces prepare to withdraw by the end of 2011.
Tensions also have been rising ahead of national elections scheduled for January.