Iraqi army: at least 22 die in Baghdad car bomb

BAGHDAD – A bomb tore through a busy square in Baghdad at midday Saturday, killing at least 22 people and wounding 54, the Iraqi army said.

An Iraqi soldier and two other people were killed in a separate bombing south of the capital, police said.

Police also said a suspected al-Qaida in Iraq fugitive was killed in a gunbattle with police in the western city of Ramadi. He was one of four suspected al-Qaida in Iraq members who escaped during a jailbreak and ensuing riot at a Ramadi police station on Friday that left six policemen and seven insurgents dead.

The U.S. military and Iraqi officials said the blast occurred at al-Zahra square, in the northern Baghdad Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah. Associated Press Television News footage of the scene showed scorched vehicles peppered with shrapnel and an engine block that was all that remained of the car bomb.

The office of Iraqi army spokesman Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the blast killed at least 22 people, while a U.S. military spokesman, Capt. Charles Calio, said 20 were killed and 25 wounded. Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the chaotic aftermath of bombings in Iraq.

Also Saturday, an Iraqi soldier and two other people were killed when a car bomb exploded as they were trying to defuse it in Musayyib, about 60 miles (40 kilometers) south of Baghdad, according to local police.

The two nonmilitary victims were members of the local awakening council, also known as Sons of Iraq, one of several names used to refer to the Sunni insurgents and tribesmen who have turned against al-Qaida in Iraq and joined the U.S. military in the fight against the terror group, a police officer said on condition of anonymity.

He said 10 other people were wounded in the blast.

In Ramadi, police said they killed the escaped prisoner, Emad Farhan, in a gunbattle inside the home of a family he had taken hostage. Three police were wounded but the family was not harmed, said the officer who could not be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Another man who escaped was arrested Friday, and police are still searching for two others.

Police in the northern city of Kirkuk also arrested six suspected insurgents, including the former driver of Hassan al-Majid — Saddam Hussein's cousin who is also known as "Chemical Ali," for ordering poison gas attacks against Iraq's Kurdish minority in the 1980s. Police Col. Bastoun Qafari said they were arrested in a pre-dawn raid. Earlier this month al-Majid received his second death sentence from an Iraqi court for his role in crushing a Shiite uprising in the wake of Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War.

Although violence has dropped by more than 80 percent around Iraq and particularly Baghdad, devastating attacks still occur. The U.S. military has said attacks are down from 180 a day last year to about 10 a day this year.

The last major bombing was on Dec. 17. On that day, 18 people were killed and 52 others wounded when a car bomb exploded in eastern Baghdad followed by a roadside bomb minutes later as police rushed to the scene, according to police and hospital officials. The U.S. military reported nine killed and 43 wounded.

On Dec. 11, a suicide bomber killed 55 people in a packed restaurant near the northern city of Kirkuk where Kurdish officials and Arab tribal leaders were trying to reconcile their differences over control of the oil-rich region.