- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2008

BAGHDAD | A bomb tore through a busy square in Baghdad at midday Saturday, killing at least 22 people and wounding 54, the Iraqi army said, demonstrating the precariousness of the relative calm that Iraq has been enjoying for months.

An Iraqi soldier and two other people were killed in a separate bombing south of the capital, police said.

Although violence has dropped by more than 80 percent in Iraq and particularly in Baghdad, devastating attacks still occur. Saturday’s attack broke a 10-day period of comparative calm since the last major bombing in the capital, which just one year ago was wracked by an average of 180 daily attacks and sectarian killings.

Police also said a suspected al Qaeda in Iraq fugitive was killed in a gunbattle with police in the western city of Ramadi. He was one of four suspected al Qaeda in Iraq members who escaped during a jailbreak and ensuing riot at a Ramadi police station Friday that left six policemen and seven insurgents dead.

The U.S. military and Iraqi officials said the Baghdad blast occurred at al Zahra square, in the northern Baghdad Shi’ite neighborhood of Kazimiyah. Associated Press Television News footage of the scene showed scorched vehicles peppered with shrapnel and an engine block that was all that remained of the car bomb.

The office of Iraqi army spokesman Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the blast killed at least 22 people, while a U.S. military spokesman, Capt. Charles Calio, said 20 were killed and 25 wounded. Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the chaotic aftermath of bombings in Iraq.

Also Saturday, 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, according to local police.

The two nonmilitary victims were members of the local awakening council - also known as Sons of Iraq, one of several names used to refer to the Sunni insurgents and tribesmen who have turned against al Qaeda in Iraq and joined the U.S. military in the fight against the terror group - a police officer said on the condition of anonymity.

He said 10 other people were wounded in the blast. The U.S. military said three were killed in the blast and two injured, and that all were Iraqi soldiers, according to initial information.

In Ramadi, police said they killed an escaped prisoner, Emad Farhan, in a gunbattle inside the home of a family he had taken hostage. Three police officers were wounded, but family members were 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 are still searching for two others.

The U.S. military has said attacks are down from 180 a day last year to about 10 a day this year.

The last major bombing was Dec. 17. On that day, 18 people were killed and 52 others wounded when a car bomb exploded in eastern Baghdad followed by a roadside bomb minutes later as police rushed to the scene, according to police and hospital officials. The U.S. military reported nine killed and 43 wounded.

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