- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2008

BAGHDAD | A suicide bomber blew herself up Monday among police officers who were celebrating the release of a comrade from U.S. custody, killing at least 22 people, Iraqi officials said. Separate bombings in Iraq killed 13 other people.

The suicide attack happened in Diyala, a province northeast of Baghdad where Sunni insurgents have carried out persistent attacks despite security gains elsewhere in the country. The female bomber targeted the home of a police commissioner who had been detained by American troops for purportedly cooperating with the Mahdi Army, a Shi’ite militia.

The attacks came as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived in Baghdad to meet with Iraqi officials and preside over Tuesday’s handover ceremony to mark the transition of command from U.S. forces in Iraq.

Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim al-Rubaie, the military commander in Diyala, said that most of the 22 fatalities were police and that 33 people were wounded in the evening attack in Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad. Two police captains and three lieutenant colonels were among the dead, a police officer said.

The U.S. military confirmed that the bomber was a woman but gave a lower casualty toll, saying 17 Iraqis were killed, including the city’s deputy chief of police, and eight other people were wounded.

Gen. al-Rubaie said police had gathered to celebrate Iftar, the meal that breaks the sunrise-to-sunset fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, with Adnan Shukr al-Timimi, a police commissioner who was held at U.S.-run Camp Bucca, a detention center in southern Iraq. Mr. al-Timimi, who had invited friends and relatives to a banquet, and his parents and two children were among the dead, a hospital official said.

In a similar attack on Aug. 24, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a celebration to welcome home an Iraqi detainee released from U.S. custody, killing at least 25 people in the Abu Ghraib area on Baghdad’s western outskirts, according to police.

The U.S. military said Monday that it had released 1,167 detainees in Iraq in the first two weeks of Ramadan and that projections for releases in the third week “are more ambitious.”

In a statement, the military said there were about 18,900 in detention, down from a high of 26,000 in November 2007.

In Baghdad, a double car bombing struck a busy commercial district, killing 13 people in one of the deadliest attacks in the capital in weeks. Iraqi officials said the explosives-laden cars were parked between a passport office and a courthouse when they blew up almost simultaneously in the mainly Shi’ite neighborhood of Karradah.

Encouraged by security gains, authorities several months ago lifted a ban on parking vehicles in the area that had been imposed to prevent such attacks.

Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, the No. 2 American commander in Iraq, said key measures of insurgent violence today are about 80 percent lower than one year ago but cautioned that it would be a mistake to push the U.S.-trained Iraqi army and police into a leading security role before they are ready.

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