Car bomb explodes in Iraqi Kurdish capital: TV

The bomber hit the main checkpoint on the way to the provincial government headquarters in the northern city just before noon

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A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle in the heart of the usually secure Iraqi Kurdish regional capital Erbil on Wednesday, killing four people, officials said.

The bomber hit the main checkpoint on the way to the provincial government headquarters in the northern city just before noon (0900 GMT), provincial council spokesman Hamza Hamed said.

The attack killed four people, two of them police, and wounded 29, Saman Barzanchi, the director general of the Arbil health department, told AFP.

A crowd of onlookers gathered at the site of the blast, which broke car windows, scarred vehicles with shrapnel and left glass and debris scattered across the blood-stained street.

The bombing is the worst attack to hit Arbil since September 29, 2013, when militants struck the headquarters of the asayesh security forces in the city, killing seven people and wounding more than 60.

In that attack, the asayesh said a suicide bomber detonated explosives at the entrance to their headquarters, after which they killed four more would-be bombers before a fifth blew up an ambulance rigged with explosives.

“When you are visiting Arbil, there is absolutely no sense of danger,” said Bruno Retailleau, a French senator who was at the Arbil provincial headquarters minutes before the blast.

“Retroactively, it’s chilling,” Retailleau, who was heading a delegation that delivered 10 tonnes of aid for displaced Iraqis, told AFP.

Iraq’s three-province autonomous Kurdish region is generally spared the rampant violence plaguing other parts of the country.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Wednesday attack, which rocked a usually crowded area close to the city’s main landmark, the UNESCO-listed Arbil citadel.

But suicide bombings are usually carried out by Sunni extremists in Iraq, including a series of blasts claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group in recent weeks.

Kurdish security forces are battling IS, which spearheaded an offensive that has overrun large areas of Iraq since June, making it a more prominent target for militants.

The initial jihadist onslaught swept federal security forces aside in the north, allowing the Kurds to take control of a swathe of disputed territory that they want to incorporate into their autonomous region over Baghdad’s objections.

But IS turned its attention to the north again in August, launching a renewed drive that pushed Kurdish forces back towards Arbil, helping to spark a US-led campaign of air strikes that has since been expanded to Syria.

Backed by the strikes, Kurdish troops have managed to regain some areas seized by IS, as have federal forces backed by pro-government fighters.

But significant territory, including three major cities, remain in the hands of the militants.