U.S. troops and Iraqi police detained 44 suspected insurgents earlier this week in the flash-point Iraqi city of Kirkuk, American officials say.

According to a U.S. military press release, the operation was the largest in the city since February and targeted people suspected of crimes ranging from "high-profile terrorist attacks" to extortion, kidnapping and drugs sales.

Multiethnic Kirkuk, around 150 miles north of Baghdad, has long been a source for concern. Its fate as either part of Iraq proper or the autonomous Kurdish region — to be determined in a vote that is continually delayed — is one of the "storm clouds on the horizon" cited by U.S. officials.

Kirkuk was not included in Iraq’s January provincial elections because of the tensions. Indeed, the Iraqi government said this week it would delay even a government-commissioned report on how to stage the Kirkuk provincial elections in the future. Commission members could not resolve disputes between the Kurdish, Turkmen and Arab factions, officials said.

That failure echoes the ethnic split in Kirkuk, with a population of nearly 900,000 and a large proportion of Iraq’s oil reserves.

In recent weeks, suicide bombings have killed more than a dozen people in Kirkuk. In one attack, Sunni "Sons of Iraq" members were killed by a suicide bomber who attacked when the men were waiting for their monthly payment. Police officials said then that the attack was an attempt to reignite sectarian tensions in the city.

The May 31 raids in the Aruba district of Kirkuk that led to 44 people being detained was conducted by troops of the 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, along with Iraqi police from the district, officials said.

"When terrorists attack an IP checkpoint, target a crowded bus or market, threaten a mosque, or — worst of all — threaten the livelihood of your children by dealing and using illegal drugs, all of Kirkuk suffers," Lt. Col. Terry Cook, commander of the U.S. battalion, was quoted as saying in the news release.

A day earlier, Iraqi officials said they had arrested the suspected Kirkuk leader of Ansar al-Sunna, a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaida in Iraq.

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