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Al Arabiya correspondent, 40 others killed in Iraq

Gunmen attack provincial council HQ in Tikrit

Al Arabiya correspondent, Sabah al-Bazi and at least 19 other people were killed on Tuesday as gunmen attacked the provincial council headquarters in Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"Forty-one people were killed and 95 wounded. Six of the dead were the attackers," said the official, stationed at the Tikrit's main hospital."

The gunmen swarmed into the building in Tikrit, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Baghdad, immediately after a suicide bomber detonated his payload and cleared the way, a police official said.

The assailants used car bombs, explosive belts and hand grenades as they stormed into the building and were holding people hostage.

A provincial official said the gunmen who wore security forces' uniforms threw hand grenades and opened fire at a checkpoint of the Salahuddin provincial council building before they managed to storm in. Twelve people were killed, the official said.

"When security forces tried to intervene when they reached the entrance, a parked car bomb exploded. It was a powerful explosion and as a result, some of the security forces were killed," said the official.

"Two suicide bombers detonated themselves inside the provincial building, while other gunmen managed to seize members of the provincial council as hostages."

Special police forces have entered the building and engaged with the gunmen, who were holding hostages on the second floor of the building, the second official said.

Iraqi security forces and U.S. soldiers had surrounded the building in the city, 150 km (95 miles) north of Baghdad.

In a press release, Al Arabiya condemned the attack that left its correspondent dead but also said it condemns attacks on media and jorunalist anywhere in the world.

Frequent attacks

Insurgents are still capable of carrying out lethal attacks eight years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam although overall violence in Iraq has fallen sharply since the peak in 2006-7 of sectarian slaughter that was triggered after the invasion.

Salahuddin province, home to Saddam's family, continues to suffer frequent attacks by suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents opposed to the Shiite-led authorities in Baghdad. Tikrit is primarily Sunni.

In mid-January, a suicide bomber blew himself up and killed 50 people in a crowd waiting outside a police recruitment centre in Tikrit.

That blast, which also wounded up to 150, was the first major strike in Iraq since the formation of a new government on December 21.

There was no immediate claim of Tuesday's attack, but officials said it bore the hallmark of Iraq's al-Qaeda affiliate.

Iraq's security forces are now solely responsible for the country's security, with the United States having declared a formal end to combat operations in the country at the end of August.