A 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 13 other people.
The suicide attack happened in Diyala, a province northeast of Baghdad where Sunni insurgents have carried out persistent attacks despite security gains elsewhere in the country. The female 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. Two police captains and three lieutenant colonels were among the dead, said a police officer who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
The U.S. military confirmed that the bomber was a woman but gave a lower casualty toll, saying 17 Iraqis were killed, including the city's deputy chief of police, and eight other people were wounded.
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, who 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 because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Al-Rubaie also said the attacker was a woman. Insurgents are increasingly turning to women for suicide attacks because they can conceal explosives more easily under long garments and evade searches by male security guards, and possibly because the male pool of suicide recruits is smaller than in the early days of the war.
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. The 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.
The U.S. military said Monday that it had released 1,167 detainees in Iraq over 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 because they weren't authorized to release the information, said 35 people were wounded and dozens of cars were burned or damaged.
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 Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived 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.
Also Monday, Iraq's chief government spokesman said Iraq now needs less foreign aid and funds than in the past and dismissed criticism from some U.S. politicians that Iraq is not sharing enough of the burden of security and reconstruction.
"What we need now is expertise and training programs rather than funds," spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said. "I think it is unreasonable that someone sitting in Washington can talk about this issue, without understanding the volume of difficulties we are facing on the ground here."
Lawmakers in Washington have called for Baghdad to pay more for its own reconstruction, which has been heavily supported by American taxpayers.