- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2009

BAGHDAD | Twin bombings - one an assassination attempt against an Iraqi provincial governor - killed 23 people and wounded the governor Wednesday in the worst violence in months to hit the western province that was once al Qaeda’s top stronghold in Iraq.

Also on Wednesday, a British hostage held for more than two years by militants was released safely in Baghdad and is now in the care of the British Embassy.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a statement in London that Peter Moore was released by his captors Wednesday morning and taken to Iraqi authorities.

A Shi’ite militant group called Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, is believed to have been behind the abduction of five people, including Mr. Moore, from Iraq’s Finance Ministry in 2007. Mr. Moore was working for a U.S.-based management consulting firm in Iraq at the time of his abduction, and the other four men taken were his security team.

The bodies of three of the bodyguards were eventually released, and British officials have said the fourth, Alan McMenemy, is believed to be dead as well.

The attacks Wednesday in Anbar province were worrisome because the strategically important region was once the heartland of support for al Qaeda-linked militants, before many insurgents turned on the terror organization and joined forces with U.S. troops and the Iraqi government. The governor is the most senior Sunni leader to be attacked since then.

Two bombs exploded in Anbar’s capital of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, said police Lt. Col. Imad al-Fahdawi. First, a car driven by a suicide bomber blew up near a checkpoint on the main road near the provincial administration buildings.

“When the first explosion occurred, the governor walked out of his office, heading to the site to see what happened,” Col. al-Fahdawi said.

“A second suicide bomber with an explosives belt and wearing a military uniform tried to make his way through the crowd of people and was stopped by guards of the governor,” and then blew himself up just yards from the governor, Col. al-Fahdawi said.

Another police official said the provincial police commander was wounded. The police official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

A doctor at the main hospital in Ramadi, Ahmed Abid Mohammed, said 23 people were killed and 57 injured. He said the governor suffered burns on his face and injuries to his abdomen and other areas.

American forces were helping evacuate casualties, establish security and carry out forensic investigations, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Curtis Hill.

In the town of Khalis, about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad, a bomb killed six pilgrims taking part in a procession to commemorate the death of a Shi’ite saint, said a Diyala province police spokesman, Capt. Ghalib al-Karkhi. He said the blast also wounded 24 people.

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