BAGHDAD - Attackers gunned down a police officer heading to work yesterday in the oil-rich northern Iraq city of Kirkuk, then bombed a funeral procession carrying his corpse, killing three other policemen, officials said.

The attackers sprayed automatic-weapons fire from a vehicle early yesterday, killing the policeman as he made his way to the station house, police Captain Ahmed Shinrani said.

A short time later, a roadside bomb hit hundreds of mourners and security forces transporting the corpse for burial, killing policeman Dashti Talabani - the cousin of leading Kurdish politician Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Two other police officers died in the bombing and two more suffered injuries, Shinrani said.

Kurdish officials, whose parties emerged as a main power broker after Iraq's January 30 elections, said assailants hope to provoke strife among the various ethnic groups in Kirkuk, an oil city 290 kilometers north of Baghdad.

"Today's crime is part of series of terrorist attacks against Kurds and Christians, and those attacks are aimed at destabilizing Kirkuk," said Jala Jawhar, a top official of Talabani's party. "Terrorists who are behind this crime will receive their punishment."

The Kirkuk attacks came as unidentified assailants also killed police Commissioner Ahmed Ali Kadim as he traveled to his office in the Doura neighborhood of Baghdad, said Falah Al-Mohammadawi, an investigator in the precinct.

Also yesterday, a series of blasts sent smoke rising up from the banks of the Tigris River, a few meters outside the heavily fortified Green Zone. Cobra attack helicopters flashed overhead.

And a suicide attacker detonated a car bomb, targeting a U.S. military patrol on a highway five kilometers northwest of Ramadi, a city west of Baghdad in the restive region known as the "Sunni Triangle," Sergeant Laith Ismael of the Iraqi police said.

Of the latest in many clashes with insurgents in the area, the U.S. military said in a statement that the car bomb "detonated prematurely, before it could reach the patrol." The statement did not mention casualties.

The Sunni Arab-led insurgency routinely attacks U.S.-led international troops, while also targeting local security forces and officials they consider to be collaborators.

Detailing an agreement that would represent one of the final hurdles in stalled negotiations to form a coalition government, an official with the clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance said yesterday that his alliance and the Kurdish coalition planned to begin returning oil-rich Kirkuk to Kurdish control - after the government is formed.

The two groups are expected to announce a cabinet when the National Assembly convenes on March 26.

"We agreed that the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk will start one month after the formation of the government," alliance negotiator Ali al-Dabagh said.

Although Iraqis elected 275 people to represent them in the country's first freely elected parliament in decades, the Kurds and Shi'ites who emerged as the country's main power brokers have been unable to form a coalition government.

A deal between the alliance and a Kurdish coalition before the National Assembly convened for the first time on March 16 has named Talabani to become the next president and conservative Islamic Dawa leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari as prime minister. The deal to make Talabani president was backed by Masoud Barzani, head of the Kurdish Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, Iraqis kept up protests yesterday against a Jordanian man they believe carried out a suicide bombing that killed 125 people in Hillah on February 28. "No, no to terrorism," chanted about 200 people in Baqouba, 60 kilometers northeast of Baghdad.

The Jordanian daily Al-Ghad had reported that the man, Raed Mansour al-Banna, carried out the attack, the single deadliest one of the Iraqi insurgency. The paper later issued a correction saying it was not known where in Iraq Al-Banna carried out an assault.

Al-Banna's family has denied his involvement in the Hillah attack, saying he was killed while carrying out a suicide bombing in Mosul.