Attacks in Iraq kill 54

Emirati diplomat hostage released

BAGHDAD (AP) — Car bombs targeting Shiite areas tear through a car dealership in southern Iraq and a bustling outdoor market north of Baghdad Tuesday as attacks nationwide killed 54 people and wounded 120 in the bloodiest day in recent weeks.

Iraqi officials also said a key terror suspect who allegedly confessed to hundreds of beheadings was captured   in  a   raid that also netteddocuments, cell- phones and computers that contained information on other wanted terrorists and Islamic extremist groups.

An Emirati diplomat held hostage in Iraq after being abducted more than two weeks ago was released without ransom, Emirati authorities said Tuesday. Naji Rashid Nuaimi, 28, the first secretary at the United Arab Emirates embassy, was kidnapped more than two weeks ago by gunmen who shot and killed his Sudanese driver. It was unclear who had kidnapped him.

The worst bombing hit the market as Iraqis were doing their evening shopping in the Shiite area of Husseiniyah, about 95 kilometres north of Baghdad. At least 25 people were killed and 65 were wounded, interior ministry spokesman Lt. Colonel Falah Mohammadawi said.

That attack came hours after a car packed with explosives blew up at a dealership in the largely Shiite city of Hillah, about 95 kilometres south of Baghdad, killing at least 12 people and wounding 32, Capt. Muthana Khalid said.

A bomb hidden in a plastic bag also detonated outside a bakery in Baghdad, killing at least nine people and injuring 10, police Lt. Col. Falah Mohammadawi said.

The explosion occurred at 9:15pm (0515 GMT) in New Baghdad, a mixed neighbourhood in the eastern part of the capital. Bakeries in this city of about six million open early and close as late as 10:30pm so that people can buy warm bread for dinner.

On Monday, 40 people were killed in various attacks, including a car bombing in Baghdad that killed two CBS crewmen and seriously wounded network correspondent Kimberly Dozier.

Before Tuesday’s violence, at least 4,066 Iraqis had been killed in war-related violence so far in 2006 and at least 4,469 wounded based on the Associated Press reports, which may not be complete because the reporting process does not cover the entire country. During May, at least 871 Iraqis have been killed, surpassing the 801 killed in April. The deadliest month this year for Iraqis has been March, with 1,038 killed and 1,155 wounded.

Amid the surge in violence, Prime Minister Nuri Maliki held another day of meetings aimed at getting Iraq’s ethnic, sectarian and secular factions to agree on new defence and interior ministers, but the key security posts remained vacant 10 days after his national unity government took office.

The interior ministry, which controls the police forces, has been promised to the Shiites. Sunni Arabs are to get the defence ministry, overseeing the army. It is hoped the balance will enable Maliki to move ahead with a plan for Iraqis to take over all security duties over the next 18 months.

In the meantime, US military commanders have moved about 1,500 combat troops from a reserve force in Kuwait into the volatile Anbar province in western Iraq to help local authorities establish order in the insurgent hotbed that stretches from west of Baghdad to the Syrian border.

The military command in Iraq described the new deployment as short-term. The plan is to keep the latest troops — two battalions of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armoured Division — in Anbar no longer than four months, said one military official, who requested anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the details of the move.

The military also said a roadside bomb killed a US soldier Tuesday southeast of Baghdad and small arms fire killed a US soldier Monday in Mosul, 360 kilometres northwest of Baghdad.

The bodies of two Marines missing after a helicopter crash in western Iraq over the weekend also were recovered.

The AH-1 Cobra helicopter from 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing was on a maintenance test flight when it went down Saturday in the volatile Anbar region. The military said hostile fire was not suspected as the cause, but the crash was under investigation.

The prime minister’s office said terror suspect Ahmed Hussein Dabash Samir Batawi was captured Monday and he confessed to hundreds of beheadings in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. They also released a mugshot of Batawi wearing a white T-shirt with a nametag hanging around his neck.

Although no breakdown exists, beheadings are not at all rare in Iraq and many such bodies are found in Baghdad and other cities. They are either the victims of sectarian death squads or Islamic extremist groups such as Al Qaeda in Iraq. That group alone has been responsible for beheading several foreign hostages, including American Nicholas Berg.

Police also said three unidentified insurgents who were described as well-known aides of Zarqawi were killed last week during clashes in Latifiyah, about 30 kilometres south of Baghdad.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, mortar rounds fired by remote control from a car hit the third floor of the heavily guarded interior ministry and a nearby park, killing two government employees and wounding three other people.

A roadside bomb also killed one police officer and wounded four others in the capital, and police found nine bodies of people who had been shot in separate locations. A decapitated body was discovered floating in the river about 50 kilometres south of the capital.

Police Capt. Laith Mohammad, meanwhile, said a pregnant woman and her cousin were killed in uncertain circumstances in Samarra, 95 kilometres north of Baghdad, as they were driving to a maternity hospital. When asked if they knew about the incident, the US military had no immediate comment.

It comes in the wake of an investigation into allegations that US Marines killed unarmed civilians the western Iraqi city of Haditha.

Separately, the US military freed 204 male detainees from Abu Ghraib and other detention centres in Iraq after the Iraqi-led Combined Review and Release Board reviewed their files and recommended release.

To date, the board has reviewed the cases of more than 39,000 detainees, recommending more than 19,600 individuals for release, the military said.

In other violence, according to police and hospital officials:

— Three people were killed and 10 others were wounded in the volatile city of Ramadi, but the circumstances of their deaths remained unclear.

— A suicide car bomber tried to ram into an Iraqi army checkpoint in a village west of Mosul, but Iraqi soldiers opened fire, killing the driver.

— Masked gunmen killed a real estate broker, a baker and the owner of a convenience store in separate attacks in Baghdad.

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