BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Six bomb attacks in Baghdad killed at least 17 people and wounded more than 50 Thursday, hours before a highly anticipated ceremony in which the U.S.-led coalition was to hand over control of the country’s armed forces command to Iraqi authorities.
The bombs, including three suicide car bomb attacks, all targeted police patrols and occurred within about three hours of each other in central, northern and western parts of the capital.
Meanwhile, the nephew of Iraq’s parliament speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, was kidnapped, an interior ministry official said. Gunmen snatched Ahmed al-Mashhadani on Wednesday night in the Hurriyah neighborhood in north Baghdad, the official said.
The violence came as Iraq was take control of its armed forces command, a major step in the country’s painful path toward independence and an essential move before international troops can eventually withdraw.
“This is such a huge, significant event that’s about to occur,” U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said Wednesday of the shift in the Iraqi command. “If you go back and you map out significant events that have occurred in this government’s formation in taking control of the country, (this) is gigantic.”
The ceremony, which will put the prime minister in direct control of the military, comes five days after it was originally scheduled. The government abruptly called off the original ceremony at the last minute.
The U.S. and the Iraqis did not publicly reveal many details of the disagreement, other than to say it was more procedural than substantive. Caldwell said the handover was so important, it could not be rushed into.
“If there’s even a question, if there’s even a slightest misunderstanding, you would absolutely want to get that thoroughly resolved,” he said.
Following the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, the U.S. disbanded what was left of the defeated Iraqi army. The U.S.-led coalition has been training and equipping the new Iraqi military, hoping it soon will be in a position to take over security for the entire country and allow foreign troops to return home. But it is still unclear how fast this can be done.
“It’s the prime minister’s decision how rapidly he wants to move along with assuming control,” Caldwell said. In Thursday’s ceremony, the prime minister will take control of Iraq’s small naval and air forces, and the 8th Iraqi Army Division. “They can move as rapidly thereafter as they want. I know, conceptually, they’ve talked about perhaps two divisions a month,” Caldwell said.
The 8th Division was recently engaged in a fierce, 12-hour battle with Shiite militia in the southern city of Diwaniyah which left more than 20 soldiers and 50 militiamen dead.
But hours before the ceremony was due to be held, Baghdad was rocked by a series of explosions. A suicide car bomb targeting a police patrol outside a gas station near the Elouya Hospital in the center of the city killed 10 people and wounded 18, police Lt. Bilal Ali Majeed said.
The blast damaged 20 cars, including six police vehicles, as well as several nearby shops. Another suicide car bomb in Taiyran Square in the center of the city killed three policemen and wounded 15, the prime minister’s office said in a statement.
Earlier, two suicide car bombs exploded near al-Nidaa Mosque in northern Baghdad, the prime minister’s office said. The first caused no casualties, but the second killed three civilians and wounded another 12.
In western Baghdad, a roadside bomb in Qahtan Square near Yarmouk hospital wounded four people, including a policeman, while in the upscale district of Mansour, a roadside bomb explosion killed a man as he accompanied his 15-year-old daughter to take an academic exam. His daughter and another person were injured in the blast. The girl stood near the bomb site crying, her white long-sleeved shirt and jeans spattered with blood. Inside the car, her school papers lay onthe passenger’s seat, covered in broken glass and drops of blood.
Meanwhile, Iraq announced it had executed 27 “terrorists” convicted by Iraqi courts of killings and rapes in several provinces.
The 27 were executed in Baghdad on Wednesday, the government’s media office said in a brief statement Thursday. It did not provide any further details.