A suicide truck bomb exploded in the city of Kirkuk in Iraq's Kurdish north Sunday in an attack that left at least 18 people dead and another 55 wounded, police said.
A gunman sitting beside the suicide bomber opened fire on civilians before the truck slammed into the city's criminal court and exploded, said police Brig. Sarhat Qadir.
The court is located near the offices of the region's two main parties — the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said police Col. Burhan Tayeb.
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is run by Iraq's President Jalal Talabani, while the president of Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, runs the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
Barzani recently angered many in Baghdad when he ordered the Iraqi national flag to be replaced with the Kurdish banner on all government buildings in the autonomous Kurdish region in the north. Kirkuk is located just outside the autonomous region. His decision Sept. 1 led to an outcry, particularly among Sunni Arab lawmakers who fear that Kurds are pushing for secession under the nation's new federal system.
In separate attacks in Kirkuk, a roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol in the south of the city, killing two civilians and wounding four, while another roadside bomb also targeting a police patrol in another part of the city wounded three civilians, Qadir said.
Violence across Iraq has killed hundreds of people in recent weeks.
In Baghdad, the bloodshed has escalated sharply in the past week, with more than 180 people killed since Wednesday — either slain by bombs and gunfire or tortured and shot before being dumped on city streets or in rivers, a hallmark of reprisal killings being waged between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
On Sunday, the bullet-riddled bodies of four unidentified men were found in separate neighborhoods in east Baghdad. All were blindfolded and had their hands and legs tied, said police Maj. Mahir Hamad Mussa.
Meanwhile, the U.S.-led military coalition said coalition and Iraqi forces had captured a high-level al Qaeda in Iraq suspect on Wednesday near the city of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.
The coalition said the suspect, who was not named, was a "targeted high level al Qaeda in Iraq terrorist" and that intelligence reports indicated he was "an extremely active weapons facilitator" involved in car bomb attacks on Iraqi police.
There were also indications he had been helping arrange a meeting of "high level terrorists," said the statement released late Saturday.
The coalition said a series of raids on Tuesday led to the arrest of a man who allegedly headed assassination, kidnap and bombing groups in Baghdad. The suspect's name was not released, but the coalition said he was a personal associate of Abu Hazah al-Muhajir, who it described as "one of the key leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq."
The raids also led to the capture of another 70 people suspected of involvement in terrorist activity, the statement said.
Earlier this month, Iraqi authorities said police had killed Abu Jaafar al-Liby, described as the second or third most important figure in al Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Liby had been in charge of the Baghdad sector of al Qaeda in Iraq, Iraqi authorities had said.
Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry said Sunday that Iraqi soldiers raided a Sunni mosque in the south Baghdad neighborhood of Dora on Saturday and confiscated a weapons cache, including 50 roadside bombs, a bomb hidden in a coffin and several hand grenades, rifles and rocket launchers.
It said 16 people were arrested in the raid on the Suhaib mosque.