Armed with pistols, AK-47 rifles and hand grenades, the assailants shot their way into the building from the main gate and a side entrance. According to preliminary investigations, one government employee was killed. Two policemen were wounded.
The gunmen approached the entrance of the building shortly before 8 a.m. and opened fire, Erbil deputy governor Tahir Abdullah told Reuters.
Seizing the third floor and taking an unspecified number of hostages, the men estimated to number at least four - screamed “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest). Two of them carried out suicide bombings.
Hand grenades were hurled at security forces. Snipers took up positions on a nearby building in Erbil’s busy commercial district and opened fire at the militants.
Islamic State suspected
“We believe that the attackers are from Islamic State because of the tactics they used in breaking into the building from the main gate. Two gunmen used pistols to shoot at the guards,” said a security official.
Iraq announced in December that it had defeated Islamic State. But the group still carries out attacks in parts of Iraq, an OPEC oil producer and close ally of the United States.
Such high-profile attacks are rare in Erbil, seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
The semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq was already facing difficulties before Monday’s dramatic attack.
Last year a Kurdish bid for independence from the central government was quashed by the Iraqi army and militias allied with Iran.
Tensions are high between the two main Kurdish parties because of difference over the independence issue.
Kurdish security forces said the gunmen, who were speaking Kurdish, asked the women to leave and kept the men inside.
Islamic State has in the past established units composed solely of Kurdish militants who fought in both Iraq and Syria.