BAGHDAD (AP) — Al-Qaida's local branch in Iraq claimed responsibility Monday for a spate of rare suicide attacks last month in the northern, relatively peaceful self-ruled Kurdish region, underlining the terror group's growing strength across the country.
The Sept. 29 twin suicide car bombs hit a complex housing the regional Interior Ministry and other security agencies in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, killing at least six Kurdish troops and wounding more than 30 others.
The attacks were the biggest since 2007, when a suicide truck bombing hit the same ministry, killing 14 people, and 2004, when a twin suicide attack killed 109.
In a statement posted Monday on a militant website, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant said the attacks were in retaliation for statements recently made by the regional President Massoud Barzani expressing readiness to help the Shiite-led central government in Baghdad in its fight against insurgents, and also offering to assist Kurdish militias in neighboring Syria. Al-Qaida-linked militants in Syria have been fighting ethnic Kurds in Syria's northeast.
Since 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the Kurdish region in northern Iraq has been relatively peaceful compared to the rest of the country, making it the best destination for foreign investors across sectors.
The authenticity of the statement by al-Qaida's Iraq branch could not be independently verified but it was consistent with the group's earlier statements.
The Irbil attacks were the latest in a bout of violence that began in April, the deadliest turmoil since 2008. Most of the attacks, which have killed more than 5,000 people since April, have been claimed by al-Qaida.
Violence continued on Monday with bombs targeting patrols of pro-government, anti-al-Qaida Sunni militia in two separate areas, killing five and wounding 10, two police officers and two medical officials said on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.
The Sunni militiamen, or Sahwa, joined with U.S. troops to fight al-Qaida during the height of an insurgency. Since then, they have been a frequent target for al-Qaida in Iraq, which considers them traitors.
Also Monday, Iraq's parliament said in a statement that lawmakers set April 30 as the date for holding national elections. Iraq's last national elections were held in March 2010. It took political rivals nine months to form a government. Since then, the Defense and Interior portfolios have been held by embattled Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, because of ongoing political wrangling.