Black flags flew for the dead in towns throughout the Kurdish provinces on Monday on the second day of Eid al-Adha feast.

Two bombers joined hundreds of civilians celebrating at the offices of two main Kurdish parties in the northern city of Irbil before detonating explosives strapped to themselves on Sunday. 

Key figures were killed from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which controlled northern Iraq during the rule of captured Iraqi leader Saddam Hussien.

The KDP lost its local government affairs minister, Shawakat Shaikh Yezdin, agriculture minister Saad Abd Allah and the deputy prime minister of the autonomous Kurdish government Sami Abd al-Rahman.

Three senior PUK members -Khosro Shera, Shakhran Abbas and Behrouz Keshta - were killed, while a fourth colleague, not yet named, also died.

Irbil's hospitals struggled to cope with the enormous number of casualties. Officials pleaded for blood donors as the casualty figure rose steadily.

Kurdish hopes

The attacks have dealt a blow to the area's ruling parties, who are also rivals for power.

It was a black Eid for many
civilians in northern Iraq

But Kurdish leaders said the attacks will only strengthen their resolve for self-rule in a federal Iraq and bring the rival parties together.  

KPD leader Massud 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."

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 in 1991 after Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War, but were suppressed. However, US-British intervention provided Kurds a self-rule region. The Kurds want to maintain that in a future federal Iraq.

However, the Kurdish aspirations make Arabs and Turkmen, an ethnic group related to the Turks, uneasy. The Kurdish unity in the aftermath of the attacks is likely to increase those feelings.