- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

BAGHDAD | Bombings killed nearly 60 people in Iraq on Thursday in the worst violence since U.S. combat troops withdrew from urban areas last week, and American forces released five Iranian officials suspected of aiding Shi’ite insurgents.

U.S. officials said they think the Iranians, detained in northern Iraq in January 2007, had facilitated attacks on American-led forces but handed them over to the Iraqi government at its request. Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said it was a “good initiative” that could encourage dialogue between Washington and Tehran, which are longtime foes.

The Iranian Embassy said it expected to receive the Iranians, described by their government as diplomats. Washington thinks they are members of the Quds Force, part of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The carnage within Iraqi borders Thursday was a reminder that insurgents remain intent on destabilizing Iraq as the United States shifts its focus to the war in Afghanistan.

An estimated 130,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, but they have a much lower profile and are preparing for a complete pullout by the end of 2011. Iraqi attitudes are mixed, with some rejoicing over the absence of American troops in their streets and a new sense of sovereignty, and others worried that extremists will now have more freedom to operate.

The day’s violence began at 6:30 a.m., when a suicide bomber in a police uniform and carrying a radio and a pistol knocked on the door of an investigator in the anti-terrorism police force in Tal Afar. When the officer opened the door, the bomber detonated his explosive belt, killing the officer, his wife and son, said Maj. Gen. Khalid al-Hamadani, police chief of the northern Ninevah province.

As people gathered in the aftermath, another suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt, Gen. al-Hamadani said. The coordinated attack killed 38 people and injured 66. Army Brig. Abdul-Rahman Abu Raghef said the first suicide bomber was a local resident who had been jailed for one year on suspicion of terrorism but was released in an amnesty in June.

A day earlier, car bombs in two Shi’ite villages near Mosul, another northern Iraqi city, killed 16 civilians and injured at least two dozen.

Insurgents also struck Baghdad on Thursday morning, detonating bombs that killed 18 people and injured dozens. Eight of them died and 30 were injured in coordinated blasts near an outdoor market in the Shi’ite district of Sadr City, said Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Mousawi, spokesman for the city’s operations command center.

In the Karrada district of central Baghdad, one civilian died in a bomb attack on the convoy of the Central Bank governor, Sinan al-Shibibi, a police officer said on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. The governor was unharmed.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the five Iranian detainees had been turned over to Iraq at its request. Another State Department official said that the Iranians were members of the Quds force, which is thought to be involved in training Iraqi militant groups, and that the handover was not part of a deal or prisoner exchange with the Iranian government.

Also Thursday, the U.S. military said it was investigating the death of a U.S. soldier who had been found “unresponsive” on a military base.

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