At least 49 people were killed Tuesday in bomb blasts and other attacks in the Baghdad area. Meanwhile, U.S. military commanders sent about 1,500 combat troops into the volatile Anbar province to help local authorities establish order in an area described as an insurgent hotbed.
The decision to move troops, announced Tuesday, came amid new spikes in violence, including two car bombings that left at least 37 dead and an explosion outside a Baghdad bakery that killed at least nine and injured 10, police said.
In one blast, a bomb in a parked car hit a popular market in Husseiniyah, a Shiite area 20 miles north of Baghdad, killing at least 25 people and wounding 65, the Interior Ministry said.
Police said they defused another bomb in a car near the scene.
In the town of Hillah, south of Baghdad, a suicide car bomber killed at least 12 people and wounded 32.
The bakery explosion occurred at 9:15 p.m. in New Baghdad, a mixed neighborhood in the eastern part of the capital, police said.
In other news Tuesday, a United Arab Emirates diplomat who was held hostage in Iraq was released, Emirati officials said.
“UAE diplomat Naji al-Noaimi was freed this evening,” the official WAM news agency quoted a foreign ministry official as saying.
Troops to be in Anbar for four months
In their attempt to quell violence, the U.S. military command described the new deployment, which involves moving troops currently stationed at a reserve force in Kuwait, as short-term.
The plan is to keep the latest troops — two battalions of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division — in Anbar no longer than four months, said one military official, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details of the move.
Anbar province stretches from west of Baghdad to the Syrian border.
The 1st Armored Division has had a brigade stationed in Kuwait for several months serving as a reserve force that could be called upon to augment the troops in Iraq. One of the brigade’s battalions was sent to the Baghdad area in March to bolster security until a new national government was seated.
The latest deployment comes at a time when the Bush administration is under heavy election-year pressure to begin drawing down the roughly 130,000 American troops in Iraq.
The two battalions were sent to the Anbar region after Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, requested and received authority to relocate the reserve force, after coordination with Iraq officials and Pentagon leaders.
“The situation in Al Anbar Province is currently a challenge but is not representative of the overall security situation in Iraq,” said Lt. Col. Michelle Martin-Hing, spokeswoman for Multi-National Corps-Iraq.
In other developments Tuesday:
- In Baghdad, mortar rounds hit the heavily guarded Interior Ministry and a nearby park Tuesday, killing two government employees and wounding five other people, police said.
- The Iraqi government said it had captured a key terror suspect, Ahmed Hussein Dabash Samir al-Batawi, who had confessed to hundreds of beheadings. Also seized were documents, cell phones and computers that contained information on other wanted terrorists and Islamic extremist groups, the government said.
- Police said three members of al-Qaida in Iraq had been killed during clashes south of Baghdad last week.
- A Baghdad roadside bomb killed one police officer and wounded four others, and police found the bodies of three blindfolded and handcuffed men who apparently had been tortured and shot in the head. A decapitated body was discovered floating in the river about 35 miles south of the capital.
Tuesday's attacks came a day after a CBS correspondent was seriously wounded and her two crew members and a U.S. soldiers were killed in a wave of car bombings and shootings that killed at least three dozen other people.
The military said another U.S. soldier had died Monday during combat in northern Iraq, raising to 2,468 the number of U.S. military members who have died since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Search for an interior minister
Amid the bloodshed, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki held meetings aimed at finding new defense and interior ministers more than a week after his national unity government took office. Iraq’s ethnic, sectarian and secular parties are struggling to agree on who should run the two crucial ministries.
Top Shiite officials said the U.S. Embassy had invited government representatives and the leaders of all the political blocs to a meeting, and they expected the names of new candidates to be discussed.
Parliament on Monday debated the violence in the capital and outlying provinces but failed to set up a commission to deal with the problem because of al-Maliki’s inability to appoint ministers of defense and interior.
The Interior Ministry, which controls the police, has been promised to the Shiites. Sunni Arabs are to get the Defense Ministry, overseeing the army.
It is hoped the balance will enable al-Maliki to move ahead with a plan for Iraqis to take over all security duties in the next 18 months. He wants to attract army recruits from the Sunni Arab minority, which provides the core of the insurgency.
Separately, 249 prisoners who had been suspected of ties to the insurgency were released from three U.S. detention centers Tuesday, Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim Ali said.
Many of the detainees, who had been held at the Abu Ghraib, Camp Bucca and Fort Suse prisons, kissed the ground and touched their foreheads to express thanks to God.
The freed prisoners were part of a group of 2,000 cleared for release by a joint committee from the Justice, Interior and Human Rights ministries, as well as Americans, Ali said.
There are still 14,000 detainees, including five women, in prisons nationwide, Busho said.