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A car bomb detonated by a suicide attacker followed by gunmen storming a police headquarters in the north Iraqi city of Kirkuk killed 30 people and wounded 70 others on Sunday, a police general said.

Militants had apparently sought to take control of the compound, but were unsuccessful, said Brigadier General Natah Mohammed Sabr, the head of the city’s emergency services department.

The attackers struck at morning rush hour in the city centre, Sabr said, with the militants armed with guns, grenades and suicide vests looking to force their way into the police headquarters in the chaotic aftermath of the car bombing.

In addition to the casualties, the attack caused massive damage to nearby buildings, Sabr said.

The deadly attack shattered a relative calm in recent days in Iraq, which has been grappling with a political crisis pitting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki against his erstwhile government partners amid weeks of ongoing protests calling for him to resign.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the violence, but Sunni militants including al-Qaeda’s front group in Iraq frequently target security forces and government targets in a bid to destabilise the country and push it back towards the sectarian bloodshed that blighted it from 2005 to 2008.

Kirkuk, an ethnically mixed city 240km north of Baghdad, lies at the heart of a swathe of disputed territory claimed by both the central government and Iraq’s autonomous northern Kurdish region.

The unresolved row is persistently cited by diplomats and officials as the biggest threat to Iraq’s long-term stability.

Militants often exploit a lack of coordination between the two sides’ security forces and launch deadly attacks in the city, which remains one of the most violent in Iraq, and also in nearby towns.