At least 56 Iraqis died Thursday in violence, including a car bombing that killed 25 people in 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 has about 20 suspected insurgents in custody, police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammadawi said.
He ruled out that the assault was aimed at releasing the prisoners, which was the goal of previous days’ attacks on other police facilities.
Insurgents engineered a successful jailbreak that released more than 30 prisoners north of Baghdad on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the militants laid siege to a prison south of the capital, but U.S. troops and a special Iraqi unit thwarted the pre-dawn attack, capturing 50 of the gunmen, police said.
In Thursday’s assault, more than 35 people, mainly employees at the crimes unit, were wounded, police said.
2nd bomb targets market
A second car bomb hit a market area outside a Shiite Muslim mosque in the 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.
U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch acknowledged a spike in “ethnic-sectarian incidents,” saying that civilian casualties increased 75 percent during the period of March 11-17, compared with the previous week.
In Baghdad alone, he said, the U.S. command recorded 58 incidents involving 134 dead during that period. Attacks nationwide have been averaging 75 a day, a level that has been generally sustained since August, Lynch said.
Rumsfeld won’t predict U.S. pullout
In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declined to predict Thursday when U.S. forces would be out of Iraq, a decision President Bush has said would be up to a future U.S. president and a future Iraqi government.
“I’ve avoided predicting the timing,” Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon.
“The level of the forces in Iraq will depend on conditions on the ground and the recommendations of the commanders,” Rumsfeld said. He added that he had not yet received a recommendation from Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, on whether or when to reduce the size of the force.
Attacks on Shiite pilgrims
In northern Baghdad, thousands of mourners carried 17 coffins of fellow Shiites killed while returning home from a pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala.
Residents of Kazimiyah pounded on drums, chanted religious slogans and threw perfumed water at the coffins as they made their way to a shrine in the mostly Shiite neighborhood.
Gunmen in the capital had targeted the pilgrims as they returned from Karbala, where millions gathered this week to commemorate the 40th and final day of symbolic mourning for the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson.
Police reported at least six Shiites were killed and 50 others wounded Wednesday in attacks on buses and trucks transporting the pilgrims. Officials also discovered the bodies of 16 other pilgrims, all dressed in black, on a Baghdad highway.
The 17 victims honored Wednesday were all from the Kazimiyah community.
Hundreds of bodies found
Police have discovered hundreds of corpses in the past four weeks, victims of religious militants seeking revenge since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.
Tight security in Karbala appeared to hold most sectarian violence at bay during the religious event. Insurgents fired a mortar round into a parking lot near the Karbala shrine Sunday, but no one was hurt.
The commemoration has been marked by deadly insurgent attacks in the past. In 2004, coordinated blasts involving suicide bombers, mortars and planted explosives hit Shiite shrines in Karbala and Baghdad, killing at least 181 people.
In other violence:
- Roadside bombs targeting police patrols killed four others — two policemen and two bystanders — in Baghdad and at least one policeman in Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of Baghdad. Dozens were wounded, police said.
- Another two policemen were killed and two were wounded when gunmen ambushed a convoy in north Baghdad, an attack that police said was an aborted attempt to free detainees being transferred north to Mosul.
- Elsewhere in Baghdad, two police were killed in gunbattles with insurgents, and two civilians — a private contractor and a power plant employee — were slain 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 U.S. forces to a hospital in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, police said.
- A mortar round fell on a Baghdad 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 a western neighborhood, police said.