THE United States' military said yesterday that al-Qaeda was the "prime suspect" for suicide bomb attacks on a minority sect that killed 200 people in north-west Iraq.
The attackers, driving fuel tankers, struck densely populated residential areas west of the city of Mosul that are home to members of the Yazidi sect, whose followers are considered infidels by Sunni militant groups.
The US military said the scale and apparently co-ordinated nature of the bombings were hallmarks of al-Qaeda. "We're looking at al-Qaeda as the prime suspect," said Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Garver, a US military spokesman.
Iraq's political leaders, including Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister, and Jalal Talabani, the president, condemned the "heinous" bombings and ordered an inquiry.
The Kurdistan regional government condemned "the cowardly and barbaric attack against innocent civilians of this tolerant religious minority".
The US has launched a major new offensive in Iraq in an attempt to thwart such attacks by al-Qaeda and Shiite militias ahead of a progress report on the US military strategy that is due to be presented to the US Congress in September.
"This violence only strengthens our resolve to continue our mission against the terrorists who are plaguing the people of Iraq," said Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador, and General David Petraeus, the US military commander in Iraq, who will both deliver the progress report, in a joint statement.
In the aftermath of the blast, authorities imposed a total curfew in the Sinjar area, which is close to the Syrian border.