As the death toll continued to rise Monday, Kurdish party leaders said the attacks in Irbil, which occurred about 10 minutes apart, would only strengthen the ties between their once rival groups, according to Reuters.
The explosions, the deadliest attack since a suicide car bombing killed more than 80 outside a Shiite shrine in the southern city of Najaf in August, killed several senior members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish Democratic Party.
The parties, whose militias once fought a civil war in the 1990s, have become more closely aligned in the past few years and supported the United States’ efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein, Reuters reported.
The KDP lost its veteran deputy leader, Sami Abdul-Rahman, and another high-ranking official, Saad Abdullah, in Sunday’s bombings.
The two parties had been using their Irbil headquarters reception area for the first day of a festival celebrating the end of the hajj, when devout Muslims travel to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, according to The New York Times.
About 200 people, including children, were attending the KDP reception when a man in his 20s walked into the room wearing a bulging photographer’s vest, said Aziz Ali Achmad, chief of security for the headquarters.
“He came up, reached for a minister’s hand, and then all of a sudden there was a horrible noise and fire everywhere,” Achmad said.
A similar incident occurred at the PUK headquarters, a witness said.
“A man walked up to Shakhawan Abbas [a member of the PUK’s leadership council] and while he was shaking his hand, he exploded himself,” said a guard, who gave his name as Mahmoud.
Investigators were checking a videotape taken right before the incident to try to identify the bomber.
Except in the hotly contested oil-rich city of Kirkuk, the Kurds have generally not been involved in sectarian violence, and the Kurdish region has been considered one of the safest parts of Iraq, according to the Times.
U.S. administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer said the bombings “constituted a cowardly attack on human beings as well as on the very principle of democratic pluralism in Iraq.”
Sunday’s attacks followed a series of violent incidents throughout the week in Iraq.
Twelve people, including three U.S. soldiers, were killed on Saturday in two bomb attacks in the northern region of the country, the Associated Press reported.
In one attack, a suicide bomber rammed his car into a police station crowded with officers in Mosul, killing at least nine people — five of them police officers — and wounding 45.
In the second attack, three U.S. soldiers were killed when a homemade bomb destroyed the humvee in which they were riding. The soldiers, members of the 4th Infantry Division, were traveling south in a convoy about 25 miles southwest of Kirkuk.
Their deaths brought to 522 the number of American service members who have died since the Iraq war began March 20.