IRBIL, Iraq – American military officials raised the death toll in the homicide bombings at two Kurdish party offices to 67 on Monday, while leaders of the rival U.S.-allied parties said the attacks would serve to strengthen Kurdish unity.
The figure — up from the earlier estimate of 56 dead — was released by military officials meeting with U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (search), who was visiting troops in Mosul on Monday after spending a day in Baghdad. The officials said there were 267 people injured in the attacks.
The near simultaneous attacks Sunday killed many of the top leaders of the two parties, who were gathered to greet hundreds of ordinary Kurds on the first day of the four-day Eid-al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, holiday.
The two party offices were eight miles apart in the heartland of Iraq's minority Kurds, who have been the most supportive of the U.S. invasion and occupation.
The U.S.-installed Iraqi Governing Council (search) declared a three-day period of national mourning beginning Monday during which flags will fly at half staff and Quranic verses will be recited.
Also Sunday, a rocket attack on a U.S. supplies base in Balad north of the capital Baghdad killed one American soldier and injured 12, including two seriously. Another soldier was killed Sunday and two others hurt when their Humvee overturned near the town of Haditha.
The deaths raised to 524 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the Iraq conflict began in March.
The homicide attacks were carried out by two men dressed as Islamic clerics with explosives wired to their bodies, Kurdish television said.
One of them joined the Eid celebrations at the Kurdish Democratic Party (search), KDP, which controls Irbil province, and the other sauntered into the office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, centered in the neighboring Sulaimaniyah province.
Guards said they did not search people because of the tradition of receiving guests during the holiday.
At about 10.45 a.m., the two bombers, standing amid well-wishers waiting to shake hands with Kurdish leaders, detonated the explosives. Walls caved in, the ceiling came down in one of the offices.
The KDP leadership took the heavier blow since it is based in Irbil, 200 miles north of Baghdad. Among the dead were the Irbil region's governor Akram Mintik, the deputy governor, KDP Deputy Prime Minister Sami Abdul Rahman, his two sons as well as ministers in the Kurdish administration. The PUK's military commander also was killed.
Militias of both parties had fought alongside U.S. soldiers during the invasion of Iraq last year, but also have been rivals for power in the Kurdish self-rule region since 1994.
But the tragedy brought the two factions together, at least for the time being.
KDP leader Massoud Barzani, who was not in Irbil at the time of the attack, sent a letter to PUK's Jalal Talabani expressing condolences: "These terrorist acts are against the unity of our administrations that we have agreed on."
"The two of us, along with other political democratic parties, must work together to end these terrorist acts. The terrorists must realize that these acts will not weaken our struggle."
In reply, Talabani, who also was not in Irbil, said: "We shall work more seriously toward uniting our government. We will work together in order to live in a democratic, federal Iraq."
The Kurds rose up against Saddam Hussein in 1991 after Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War but were suppressed by Baghdad. International intervention provided Kurds a self-rule region under U.S.-British protection. The Kurds want to maintain that in a future federal Iraq.
Washington favors federalism, which would give Iraq's major groups — Shiite and Sunni Arabs as well as Kurds — a degree of autonomy within a unified nation state.
However, the Kurdish aspirations make Arabs and Turkomen, an ethnic group related to the Turks, uneasy. The Kurdish unity in the aftermath of the attacks is likely to increase that unease.
At stake is not only political power but also control over the country's oil wealth, much of it centered around the northern city of Kirkuk, which is claimed by Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen as their own.
Although Iraq has suffered numerous homicide bombings, the attack Sunday marked the first time perpetrators have worn explosives rather than using vehicles.
U.S. officials said foreign militants or Ansar al-Islam, an Al Qaeda-linked Islamic militant group that has frequently clashed with the Kurds, may have carried out the attacks. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer pledged to work with Iraqi security forces to capture those behind Sunday's bombings. "We are committed to winning the war on terror," Bremer said in a statement.
The attack was believed to be the deadliest since an Aug. 29 car bombing in the Shiite holy city of Najaf killed Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and more than 100 others as they emerged from Friday prayers.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, visiting the Iraqi capital Sunday, said the bombings on the Muslim holy day showed the inhumanity of those responsible.
"They are not about Islam," he said. "They're about their own fanatical view of the world, and they will kill to try to advance it. But we're winning, and they're losing."