Iraq frees 888 prisoners, attacks kill at least 26

A boy walks past a burnt vehicle at the site of a bomb attack in the Shuala district in Baghdad on 22 January 22 2013 that killed at least five people in a crowded market. (Photo: Reuters - Mohammed Ameen)

Published Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Updated 11:27pm: Iraqi authorities claimed on Tuesday to have freed 888 prisoners in two weeks to placate month-long rallies in the country's Sunni areas that have hardened opposition against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The announcement comes as a wave of attacks in and around Baghdad and in northern Iraq killed 26 people and wounded dozens more on Tuesday, shattering several days of relative calm after a spate of deadly violence last week.

Protesters have railed against the alleged exploitation of anti-terror laws by the Shia-led authorities to target their minority community and demanded the release of prisoners they say were wrongfully detained.

Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani told a news conference in Baghdad that 888 prisoners had been freed since January 7, with a further 1,041 prisoners released on bail. He promised the releases would continue on a daily basis.

Shahristani said priority would be given to female detainees when it came to being discharged on bail.

The move has formed the centerpiece of the government's response to rallies in western and northern Iraq, with Shahristani also apologizing this month for authorities holding detainees without charge for prolonged periods.

Officials have not provided any breakdown of the prisoners freed, and have not given details on how many had finished jail terms and how many had been held without charge.

Anti-government rallies have been ongoing since December 23 in mostly Sunni areas of Iraq, with the longest-running of the protests blocking off a key highway linking Baghdad to Jordan and Syria.

But the prisoner release would be unlikely to quell years of deadly attacks in the country triggered by the 2003 US-led invasion, which have caused an untold amount of deaths and widespread destruction of infrastructure.

Tuesday's bloodiest blasts struck an army checkpoint south of Baghdad, a military base north of the capital, and a neighborhood in the city's north, security and medical officials said.

No group claimed responsibility, but Qaeda-linked militants often launch attacks in a bid to destabilize the government and push Iraq further towards the sectarian violence.

"One of my friends was hurt in his head, and another was seriously wounded in his chest," said 41-year-old mechanic Ali Jassim at the site of the Baghdad blast, before angrily shouting: "The politicians are busy with keeping their posts, and we are suffering from these explosions!"

In the bloodiest attack, six people were killed when a car bomb was detonated near an army camp in the town of Taji, 25 kilometers north of Baghdad, an army officer and a medical official said. At least 20 other people were wounded.

South of the capital in the town of Mahmudiyah, at least five people were killed and 14 wounded by a suicide car bomb, officials said.

Mahmudiyah lies within a confessionally mixed region known as the "Triangle of Death" because of the frequency of attacks during the worst of Iraq's insurgency in the wake of the 2003 invasion.

A car bomb near a market in the north Baghdad neighbourhood of Shuala killed five people and wounded 12, while gunmen killed five officials who were transporting salaries between oil refineries near the town of Baiji.

Pieces of metal were littered across the scene of the Baghdad attack, with several cars badly damaged or completely burned, an AFP journalist said.

The insurgents who carried out the latter attack fled, and the funds were recovered, officials said.

Meanwhile, seven different shootings and bombings in Diyala, Nineveh and Salaheddin provinces north of Baghdad left four people dead and 12 others wounded.

The violence broke four days of relative calm in Iraq following a spate of attacks claimed by al Qaeda's front group that left at least 88 people dead on January 15-17, according to an AFP tally.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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