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At least 56 Iraqis die in Baghdad bombings

At least 56 Iraqis died in violence in Baghdad in the third major attack on a police lockup in three days.

india Updated: Mar 24, 2006 02:17 IST
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At least 56 Iraqis died on Thursday in violence including a car bombing in the capital that marked the third major attack on a police lockup in three days.

A suicide car bomber detonated his explosives at the entrance to the Interior Ministry Major Crimes unit in Baghdad's central Karradah district, killing 10 civilians and 15 policemen employed there, authorities said.

The Interior Ministry is a predominantly Shiite organization and heavily infiltrated by members of various Shiite militias. The unit targeted Thursday investigates large-scale crimes and had about 20 suspected insurgents in custody, police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammadawi said.

Al-Mohammadawi ruled out that the assault was aimed at releasing the prisoners -- the goal of previous days' attacks on other police facilities.

Insurgents laid siege to a prison south of Baghdad Wednesday, emboldened by a successful jailbreak a day earlier in which more than 30 prisoners were released north of the capital. But US troops thwarted the second pre-dawn attack, overwhelming the gunmen and capturing 50 of them, police said.

In yet another attempt to free prisoners, gunmen on Thursday attacked Iraqi soldiers escorting detainees to a courthouse in northern Baghdad's Azamiyah district. A prisoner was killed in the crossfire before authorities arrested eight of the gunmen, al-Mohammadawi said.

In the assault on the crime unit, more than 35 people, mainly employees, were wounded, police said.

A second car bomb hit a market area outside a Shiite Muslim mosque in the mostly mixed Shiite-Sunni neighborhood of Shurta in southwest Baghdad. At least six people were killed and more than 20 wounded, many of them children, police said.

Roadside bombs targeting police patrols killed four others _ two policemen and two bystanders _ in Baghdad and at least one policeman in Iskandariyah, 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Baghdad. Police said dozens were wounded.

Another two policemen were killed and two were wounded when gunmen ambushed their convoy in north Baghdad, an attack that police said was an aborted attempt to free detainees who were being transferred to the northern city of Mosul.

Elsewhere throughout the capital, two police were killed in gunbattles with insurgents, and two civilians _ a private contractor and power plant employee _ were gunned down in drive-by shootings. Fourteen more bodies were found in the continuing string of shadowy sectarian killings: six in the capital and eight brought in by US forces to a hospital in Fallujah, 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad, police said.

Another suicide bomber struck a police patrol, detonating his car in the region of Haditha, 220 kilometers (140 miles) northwest of Baghdad. Eight policemen were seriously injured in the attack, police said.

Back in the capital, a mortar round fell on a house wounding three civilians, police Lt Ziad Hassan said. Another civilian was seriously wounded by an Iraqi army patrol that was shooting in the air to clear traffic in the western neighborhood of Yarmouk, police said.

US military spokesman Maj Gen Rick Lynch acknowledged on Thursday a spike in "ethnic-sectarian incidents," saying that civilian casualties increased 75 per cent during the period of March 11-17, compared with the previous week.

In Baghdad alone, he said, the US command recorded 58 incidents involving 134 dead during that period.

Lynch claimed a reinforced US and Iraqi security presence in Baghdad had prevented car bombings on five recent consecutive days, but then acknowledged that attacks "surged today," referring to the two devastating car bombs.

"Today he found gaps in security," Lynch said of "the enemy," referring to bombers.

Attacks nationwide have been averaging 75 a day, a level that has been generally sustained since last August, Lynch said. Wednesday's attack on the prison in Madain, 15 miles (25 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, began with 60 insurgents firing 10 mortar rounds. Four police officers-- including the commander of the special unit -- died in a two-hour gunbattle, which was subdued only after American forces arrived. Among 50 insurgents captured, police said, one was Syrian.

The US military did not respond to a request for comment about its role in the counterattack. The raid came a day after 100 Sunni gunmen freed 33 prisoners and wrecked a jail, police station and courthouse in Muqdadiyah, a town northeast of Baghdad near the Iranian border.

Madain is at the northern tip of Iraq's Sunni-dominated "Triangle of Death," a farming region rife with sectarian violence-- retaliatory kidnappings and killings in the underground conflict between Sunnis and Shiites.

Police have discovered hundreds of corpses in the past four weeks, victims of religious militants on a rampage of revenge killing. At least 21 more bodies were found Wednesday, including those of 16 Shiite pilgrims discovered on a Baghdad highway, police said. Millions were returning home Wednesday at the conclusion of an important Shiite commemoration in the holy city of Karbala this week.

In the northern town of Beiji, meanwhile, a mortar fell on a government facility that Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi was visiting Wednesday, an aide said. Chalabi was not harmed and later returned to Baghdad, the aide said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. Chalabi, who is also the interim oil minister, was believed to have been visiting the refinery in Beiji, the nation's largest.