Six killed in rare bomb attack in Iraqi Kurdish capital

ARBIL, Iraq (REUTERS, AP, AFP) - Six people were killed on Sunday in a series of explosions outside a security directorate in the capital of Iraq's usually peaceful autonomous Kurdistan region, security and medical sources said.

Gunfire could be heard after the blasts in Arbil that wounded a further 36 people, according to the city's health directorate. The victims were believed to be members of the Iraqi Kurdish security forces, known as asayesh.

Hamza Hamid Mohammed, who is spokesman for Irbil province, says a suicide car bomber tried on Sunday afternoon to ram his car into a checkpoint leading to a complex housing the Interior Ministry and other security agencies in Irbil city. Mohammed said that another car bomber followed shortly behind.

Television footage showed the charred remains of at least three cars and another in flames. Smoke rose into the air and firefighters and ambulances were at the scene.

A statement published on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) website said one car had been targeted by asayesh before it blew up near the Interior Ministry.

The KRG statement also cited witnesses as saying five suicide bombers had been killed before they were able to detonate themselves.

While much of Iraq is plagued by near-daily violence that kills hundreds of people each month, the three-province Kurdistan region in the country's north has largely been spared the deadly unrest.

Sunday's blasts were the first to hit Arbil since May 2007, when a truck bomb exploded near the same asayesh headquarters, killing 14 people and wounding more than 80.

Iraqi security analyst Ali al-Haidari told AFP that he believes the Arbil blasts were linked to fighting between jihadists and Kurds across the border in Syria.

"The attack is linked to the differences between the Kurds and Al-Nusra Front," he said, referring to a jihadist group that operates in Syria. "Today's attack is Al-Nusra Front's revenge against the Kurds inside Kurdistan."

Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region has become increasingly embroiled in the bloody conflict raging across the border in Syria.

Clashes last month between Kurdish forces and jihadists seeking to secure a land corridor connecting them to Iraq pushed tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds across the border, seeking refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Region president Massud Barzani has threatened to intervene in the Syrian conflict to protect Kurdish civilians, although officials have since backtracked on those remarks.

The blasts came a day after results were announced for the region's parliamentary elections, which saw an opposition movement in second place ahead of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's party.

Iraqi Kurdistan enjoys a high level of autonomy from Baghdad, and the regional parliament has passed laws on a wide range of issues. Kurdistan also operates its own security forces and visa regime.