The night of terror began with a mortar bomb attack followed by a deadly operation launched by two resistance fighters who blew themselves up outside a dry cleaners frequented by US troops in Kirkuk.

At least six explosions rocked the northern city. The first explosion caused by a mortar attack destroyed a US Humvee vehicle and wounded two American soldiers.

US Major Peter Mitchell told Aljazeera.net: "We are aware of reports of an attempt by atleast one individual to ignite himself near a dry cleaners but we have no official confirmation about a series of attacks."

However Lieutenant Shaker al-Riyashi of the civil defence said there were "two youths who wore explosive belts strapped to their bodies but we were not able to identify them because they were badly mutilated."

The attack at the dry cleaners occurred about 11:30 pm (19:30 GMT) when the shop was empty. It triggered a fire that was quickly doused, Riyashi said.

Ambushes like this one on a US
military vehicle are common

The US military initially said they had no report of any incident. The attacks came as the top US commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, said his forces were facing a deadlier foe, and after three US soldiers were killed in separate attacks in the country's central region.

Six explosions

Iraqi police chief Colonel Khattab Abd Allah said the "suicide bombing" was the first incident of its kind to take place in Kirkuk since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime almost six months ago.

At least six explosions caused by rocket propelled grenades and mortars shook several parts of the city within 20 minutes, Abdullah said, adding that there were no immediate reports of casualties.

According to Abd Allah the blasts occured in residential sectors in the south, center, east and southwest of the city. At least one of the explosions was heard near a US position in the city, witnesses contacted by AFP said.

A senior security source said US troops rushed to the scene of the first blast in the southwestern sector of Kirkuk and transferred to a hospital two soldiers wounded in the attack. The source said he believed the blast was caused by a bomb.

Second mortar

The source, who declined to be named, said the second blast was caused by a mortar which targetted a US position in the centre of Kirkuk.

The attacks came on the same day as three US soldiers died in separate resistance operations

The same location was hit by a second mortar about 10 minutes later.

The fourth blast was also caused by a mortar that hit a police station in eastern Kirkuk, he said, adding that two other blasts targetted two US positions in the centre of the town, including the military's civil affairs office.

Minutes after the last explosion an AFP correspondent said he heard US warplanes fly over Kirkuk while US troops and local police began patrolling the city.

Less than two hours later, calm returned to Kirkuk where an AFP correspondent said the local police were still patrolling the streets to look for the assailants.