Attacks come days before Iraqis take security duties
BAGHDAD – A pair of car bombs killed more than two dozen people on Saturday, shattering a recent period of calm and serving as a grim reminder that recent gains remain fragile as Iraq prepares to take over security responsibilities for much of the country.
The attacks included one in the Iraqi capital – the first major attack in more than a week – that killed at least 22 people and injured 54.
In the western city of Ramadi, a suspected al-Qaida in Iraq fugitive was killed in a gunbattle with police. He was one of four suspected insurgents who escaped during a jailbreak and ensuing riot at a Ramadi police station on Friday that left six policemen and seven insurgents dead.
Although violence has dropped by more than 80 percent around Iraq and particularly Baghdad, the U.S. military has repeatedly said the improved security conditions remain fragile.
Iraq assumes control over much of the country on Jan. 1 under a security pact that replaces an expiring U.N. mandate. The new agreement gives Iraqi authorities a role in approving and overseeing U.S. military operations, and requires that U.S. troops withdraw from Baghdad and other cities by the end of June. They must leave the country entirely by Jan. 1, 2012.
The U.S. military has said attacks are down from 180 a day last year to about 10 a day this year.
Elsewhere in Iraq, an Iraqi soldier and two other people were killed when a car bomb exploded as they were trying to defuse it in Musayyib, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, an Iraqi police officer said.
Two of the victims were said to be members of the local Awakening Council, also known as Sons of Iraq, the Sunni insurgents and tribesmen who turned against al-Qaida in Iraq and joined the U.S. military in the fight against the terror group, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
He said 10 other people were wounded in the blast. Initial reports by the U.S. military showed three were killed and two injured. All were believed to be Iraqi soldiers, said Capt. Charles Calio, a U.S. military spokesman.
Prior to Saturday’s explosion in Baghdad, the last major attack in Iraq was a Dec. 17 double-bombing in Baghdad that killed 18 and wounded 52 others.
In western Iraq, Iraqi police said they killed escaped prisoner Emad Farhan in a gunbattle inside the home of a family he had taken hostage. Three police were wounded but the family was not harmed, said the officer, who could not be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Another man who escaped was arrested Friday, and police were still searching for two others.