BAGHDAD, Jan 2 (Agencies): A bomb exploded near one of Iraq's largest oil refineries yesterday and set fire to a pipeline, police said, in an attack that threatened to exacerbate the country's fuel crisis.
It was the second sabotage attack in the past few days on a pipeline feeding the Doura refinery in Baghdad, one of the three largest in the country.
But an Oil Ministry spokesman later said the blast would have no impact on the refinery's operations.
The attack came as Iraq grapples with a fuel crisis stemming from the closure of a major refinery in the north that has prompted panic buying of fuel and long queues at petrol stations.
An attack a few days ago on a pipeline feeding the Doura refinery cut capacity at the plant down to 30 per cent, while the Baiji refinery in the north was shut on Dec. 21 after insurgents threatened truck drivers transporting petrol along Iraq's perilous roads.
Iraq sits on the third largest proven oil reserves in the world.
Meanwhile, a suicide bomber rammed his booby-trapped car into a bus carrying police recruits north of Baghdad Monday, killing five, a day after deadly riots over petrol shortages tore through the northern oil hub of Kirkuk.
The suicide bomber struck on a highway near Baquba as the recruits, who had just joined the police force, were travelling by bus to the Kurdish northern region for training, an interior ministry official said.
Five recruits were also wounded in the attack.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari held talks with Kurdish leaders in the north of the country aimed at forming a "national unity" government.
Speaking in the northern town of Arbil, Jaafari said he backed an idea put forth last week by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to set up a unity government in the wake of the December 15 general elections.
"We are in favour of a government of national unity, but the sharing out of portfolios will only be decided once final election results are released," Jaafari said.
Sunni-based and secular parties have alleged widescale fraud in the elections which, preliminary results say, were won by the outgoing ruling coalition of Kurds and Shiite-based religious parties.
Talabani, a Kurd, has suggested that the four largest political factions be represented in the next government -- the Shiite-based alliance, Sunni-based parties, former prime minister Iyad Allawi's secular National List and the Kurdish alliance.
Meanwhile, three top leaders from the Sunni-based Concord list, Adnan al-Dulaimi, Tarek al-Hashimi and Khalaf al-Olayan, arrived in Arbil for talks with Kurdish regional president Massoud Barzani.
The leader of the main Shiite-based religious party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), also visited Kurdistan last week for political talks on a future government.
Abdel Aziz Hakim underscored the need to preserve the "strategic" alliance between Shiites and Kurds who formed the backbone of the outgoing government.
The northern city of Kirkuk was quiet overnight after police imposed a curfew following Sunday's riots over petrol shortages which saw one person killed and four wounded.
Hundreds of protesters clashed with police and torched two petrol stations and a building housing offices of the state oil company.
Fuel supplies to north-central Iraq have been badly hit after tanker truck drivers from the region's main oil refinery in Baiji walked off the job last month to protest death threats by insurgents.
An oil industry official said some of the drivers started to return to work Saturday.
In a separate protest in the southern oil centre of Basra, at least 1,000 people burned tyres Sunday to protest government-imposed increases in pump prices.
Meanwhile, a suicide bomber rammed his booby-trapped car into a bus carrying Iraqi police recruits Monday, killing seven and wounding 13, an interior ministry official said.
The attack took place on a highway near Baquba, north of Baghdad, as the recruits, who had just joined the police force, were on their way to the Kurdish northern region for training.
Iraq's deputy premier Ahmed Chalabi was put in charge of the oil ministry last week after the minister, Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, was placed on administrative leave for protesting the price hikes.
The government last month announced a trebling of petrol prices in a bid to reduce state subsidies, sparking widespread public anger.