SULAIMANIYAH // A suicide bomber struck a Kurdish security headquarters in the first of a string of attacks yesterday in Kirkuk, Iraq that killed seven and wounded up to 80 people.
Within minutes, two more bombs exploded nearby, sending dark plumes of smoke into the clear winter sky and ending a six-month lull in violence in a city known for ethnic tensions located 290km north of Baghdad.
The city is divided between Kurds, Turkomen and Sunnis and Shiites and has long been feared to be a potential new flashpoint in Iraq.
Police Brig Gen Sarhat Qadir said two policemen were among the dead, while five police and eight officials with the Kurdish intelligence forces known as the Asayish were wounded. Dr Khalid Ahmed of Kirkuk emergency hospital confirmed the total casualty count of seven killed and as many as 80 injured.
"We had just passed the car bomb - it was less than 40 yards away," said Meriwan Salih, a policeman whose arm was broken and who had shrapnel pierce his back when the third bomb exploded as his patrol sped by. "The huge blast threw me into the air."
Kirkuk's police chief, Major Gen Jamal Tahir, said the suicide bomber slammed his pickup truck into a blast wall surrounding the Asayish headquarters, sending flames through the building and damaging its front facade.
The second explosion hit a few blocks away, near a petrol station. Television footage showed police cars with blaring sirens racing to the headquarters when the third blast exploded, just down the street from the suicide bomber.
The third bombing knocked people to the ground, and was immediately followed by gunshots.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Gen Tahir said the group Ansar al Sunna threatened last week to target Kurdish security forces and political parties in Kirkuk.
He said Kirkuk police also will investigate how the bombers got past security precautions to launch the attacks.
In addition to being a centre for ethnic tensions, Kirkuk also sits on top of one-third of Iraq's estimated US$11 trillion (Dh40.4 trillion) in oil reserves, and Arabs fear the Kurds want to annex the city to their northern autonomous region.
Grocery owner Shakhwan Ahmed, 30, said one of the blasts shook his shop, sending fruit and boxes crashing to the ground.
"It was chaos - horrified people were running," Mr Ahmed said, lamenting the attack after what he said was a nearly six-month lull in violence in Kirkuk. "There is no indication that there will be long-standing security in Iraq; there is always a security problem here. And terrorists are now telling us that they are coming back."