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Bomb explodes in Kurdish capital

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A suicide truck bomb killed at least 14 and injured another 80 Wednesday in Irbil, the capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region, the first major attack there in three years.

Kurdish officials said the blast was timed to spoil a visit by American officials on a tour to promote investment in the region, which has styled itself "the other Iraq" in a series of television and magazine ads.

"You can't protect against suicide bombers no matter how much pressure you exert," said Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd.

Zebari said Kurdish officials suspect the blast was the work of Ansar al-Sunnah, an Islamist insurgent group with ties to al-Qaida in Iraq.

Violence continued throughout Iraq, with the U.S. military reporting the death of an American in Diyala province. But the bombing in Kurdistan overshadowed other attacks because the area has largely been spared of the chaos that has become routine elsewhere in Iraq.

Officials said the bomber drove a truck in front of the region's Interior Ministry at about 8 a.m. and ignited the blast. Witnesses said the scene—dead, dying and wounded scattered around the street, some taken away in ambulances, others loaded in the back of pickup trucks—was permeated by the stench of burning cleaning liquid apparently carried atop the explosives.

Officials of the Kurdistan Democratic Party said there'd been recent warnings of pending sabotage in the region. "We had passed instructions and warnings to the security forces to be aware and ready," said Muhammad Mula Qadir.

Local police estimated the truck was loaded with about 1,700 pounds of explosives that left a crater in the asphalt the size of a backyard swimming pool. The Interior Ministry was badly damaged, its beams twisted as rubble rained onto the street.

The dead included at least three police officers and three nurses.

Kurdish officials recently have undertaken an aggressive campaign to portray the region as safe, secure and distant, both figuratively and literally, from the violence of Baghdad, 215 miles south of Irbil.

A Time Magazine headline recently declared the region "Where Iraq Works" and a television commercial showing a Westerner dining at a sidewalk cafe featured a narration that called the area "the other Iraq."

A prominent Kurdish legislator, Mahmoud Othman, said the bombing was likely an attempt to stall efforts to attract investment.

"If you have a car bomb, any investor from any country sees that and believes there are security problems," he said.

Meanwhile, police in Kirkuk reported that three Iraqi journalists and their driver were killed about 25 miles west of the city on a road to al-Rashad while in Baghdad the brother of a high-level al-Qaida spokesman was shot.

Police said the brother of Muharib Abdul-Latif al-Jubouri, who was killed last week by U.S. soldiers, had three times claimed Jubouri's body at the morgue after Iraqi and U.S. officials offered conflicting identifications.

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(Canon reports for the Kansas City Star. Taha is a McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent. Also contributing to this story was special correspondent Hassan al Jubouri in Tikrit.)

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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