Image: Car bomb aftermath
Mohammed Jalil  /  EPA
A boy looks at a destroyed vehicle after a car bomb attack in central Baghdad's Karrada district on Monday.
updated 9/15/2008 3:46:49 PM ET 2008-09-15T19:46:49

A female 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 another 13 people.

The attacks came as Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Baghdad to meet with Iraqi authorities and preside over Tuesday's handover ceremony of control of U.S. forces from Gen. David Petraeus to a successor.

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

Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim al-Rubaie, the military commander in Diyala, said 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.

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. Al-Timimi had invited friends and relatives to a banquet, and his parents and two children were among the dead, a hospital official said on condition of anonymity.

The attacker was a woman, al-Rubaie 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. That attack occurred inside one of several tents set up outside a house in the Abu Ghraib area on Baghdad's western outskirts, according to residents and police.

Escalation in violence
The U.S. military said Monday that it had released a total of 1,167 detainees in Iraq in the first two weeks of Ramadan, and that projections for releases in the third week "are more ambitious and assume no delays or unexpected interruptions to the release process."

In a statement, the military said there were about 18,900 detainees 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 Shiite 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, although the buildings remained surrounded by concrete walls for protection.

Police and an Interior Ministry official said the dead were civilians. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said 35 people were wounded and dozens of cars were burned or damaged in the attack.

The U.S. military blamed the Baghdad attacks on al-Qaida in Iraq, which has been severely weakened by military campaigns but retains the ability to carry out devastating strikes. 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.

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

Gates, who earlier arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit, said the new commander, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, must find ways to keep improving security while American troop levels are falling.

Gates was to preside over a ceremony on Tuesday to hand command of U.S.-led forces in Iraq to Odierno from Petraeus, whose term was marked by a "surge" of 30,000 extra U.S. troops and big falls in violence.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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