A homicide car bomb exploded Thursday outside the gate the main government compound in the capital of Iraq's Anbar province, killing at least 12 people, including four police, a security official said.

The province, where Al Qaeda-backed Sunni insurgents once held sway, has seen a rise in attacks against security forces and government officials in recent months. The incident also comes amid fears that next month's elections will stoke political violence.

The attacker blew up his explosive-packed car outside the gate of a compound housing the governor's office, police headquarters and courts, the security official said.

The blast also wounded at least 20 people, he added, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Anbar is primarily made up of Sunnis, who enjoyed a privileged status under Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led regime. It was the site of some of the war's most intense fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents in the key cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.

The government compound in Ramadi was once the scene of daily attacks during the height of the insurgency in 2005 and 2006, with the governor hunkered down in his office protected by a platoon of U.S. Marines while insurgent mortar shells rained down.

In 2006, many former insurgents began to rebel against Al Qaeda, and joined forces with the U.S. military, who paid fighters to participate in the pro-government Sons of Iraq program.

The decision by the Sons of Iraq to join forces with U.S. forces to combat Al Qaeda is seen as one of the key reasons for the drop in violence in Iraq.

Insurgent attacks continue, however, and may even be on the rise. On Dec. 30 twin bombings in Ramadi killed 23 people and badly wounded the governor.