BAGHDAD - A pair of car bombs killed more than two dozen people yesterday, shattering a recent period of calm and serving as a grim reminder that recent gains remain fragile as Iraq prepares to take over security responsibilities for much of the country.
The attacks included one in the Iraqi capital - the first major attack in more than a week - that killed at least 22 people and injured 54.
In other violence, a suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq fugitive was killed in a gun battle with police in the western city of Ramadi, police said. He was one of four suspected insurgents who escaped during a jailbreak and ensuing riot at a Ramadi police station on Friday that left six police officers and seven insurgents dead.
Although violence has dropped by more than 80 percent around Iraq and particularly in Baghdad, the U.S. military has repeatedly said the improved security conditions remained fragile.
Iraq assumes control over much of the country on Jan. 1 under a security pact that replaces an expiring U.N. mandate. The new agreement gives Iraqi authorities a role in approving and overseeing U.S. military operations, and it requires that U.S. troops withdraw from Baghdad and other cities by the end of June. They must leave the country entirely by Jan. 1, 2012.
The U.S. military has said attacks are down from 180 a day last year to about 10 a day this year.
The latest attack came in Baghdad's al-Zahra square, in the northern Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah. Associated Press Television News footage of the scene showed scorched cars and minibuses. A charred engine block and melted, twisted metal was all that remained of the car carrying the 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.
South of Baghdad, an Iraqi soldier and two other people were killed when a car bomb exploded as they were trying to defuse it in Musayyib, an Iraqi police officer said.
Two of the victims were said to be members of the local Awakening Council, also known as Sons of Iraq, the Sunni insurgents and tribesmen who turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and joined the U.S. military in the fight against the terrorist group, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
He said 10 people were wounded in the blast. Initial reports by the U.S. military said three were killed and two injured. All were believed to be Iraqi soldiers, Calio said.
Before yesterday's explosion in Baghdad, the last major attack in Iraq was a Dec. 17 double bombing in Baghdad that killed 18 and wounded 52.
In western Iraq, Iraqi police said they killed escaped prisoner Emad Farhan in a gun battle in 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 reporters.
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 predawn raid.
Earlier this month, Majid received his second death sentence from an Iraqi court for his role in crushing a Shiite uprising following Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.