A suicide car bomber struck in the heart of the northern Iraqi Kurdish city of Irbil, killing at least four people, according to initial reports in local Kurdish media.
The blast in Irbil, capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, took place near the city’s historic citadel. Mayor Nawzad Hadi told the state-run Rudaw TV channel that there were casualties, although the number was not immediately known.
Rudaw reported separately that at least four people were killed in the blast, including two police officers. The Iraqi Kurdish Health Ministry reported at least 22 were wounded.
After the explosion, the Kurdish security forces sealed off the city as they started an investigation. Charred cars lined the street in front of the citadel and blood stained the pavement, according to Associated Press footage. Ambulance workers were carrying the victims from the scene.
Irbil lies close to the frontlines in Iraq’s struggle against the Islamic State group and has taken in thousands of fleeing refugees escaping the extremists’ blitz this summer that overran large swaths of northern and western Iraq, as well as a third of neighbouring Syria.
The Sunni militants advanced within 30 kilometres of the Irbil last summer, but were eventually repelled by Iraqi Kurdish forces, the peshmerga fighters, with the help of U.S. airstrikes.
Irbil’s citadel, claimed to be one of the longest continuously inhabited urban areas in the world with a history of more than 8,000 years, has long been endangered from ravages of time. In 2007, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, oversaw a project geared at restoring and preserving the ancient site.