KIRKUK: A suicide car bomb followed by an assault by grenade-throwing gunmen on the police headquarters in a disputed ethnically mixed city in north Iraq killed 30 people yesterday.
The vehicle that was detonated in central Kirkuk had been painted to make it look like a police car, and the militants who sought to seize the compound were dressed as policemen, witnesses said.
The attack shattered a relative calm in Iraq, which has been grappling with a political crisis pitting Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki against his erstwhile government partners amid weeks of ongoing protests calling for him to resign, all less than three months before key provincial elections.
No organisation immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The initial suicide car bomb was set off during morning rush hour, and was quickly followed by at least three gunmen dressed in police uniforms, armed with hand grenades and suicide vests, bursting through the main gate of the Kirkuk police compound in the direction of the headquarters building.
They threw multiple grenades as they sought to reach the building, but were killed before they could get there, witnesses said.
Brigadier General Natah Mohammed Sabr, the head of Kirkuk city’s emergency services, put the toll at 30 dead and 70 wounded. Among those hurt was Brigadier General Sarhad Qader, commander of police forces for areas surrounding the city.
“I saw a vehicle stop at the checkpoint at the main entrance, and the police started checking it,” said Kosrat Hassan Karim, who was nearby when the attack took place. “Suddenly, a loud explosion happened, it was terrifying.
“I saw many people killed inside their cars — I have never seen such a big explosion in my life.”
In addition to the casualties, the attack caused massive damage to nearby buildings and shops. The massive explosion also killed people in nearby buildings. Mohammed Aziz, who works in an office building adjacent to the police headquarters, said at least two of his colleagues died in the blast.
Police largely cut off traffic in the city centre and evacuated offices and businesses in the area. They managed to defuse one of the attackers’ suicide vests, but were still working to disarm two more.