BAGHDAD, Iraq – Three car bombs targeting civilians detonated in Iraq Tuesday, killing 46 people and wounding over 120, as 54 people were killed in violence around the country.
The violence came as officials announced the capture of a key terror suspect who allegedly confessed to hundreds of beheadings and said three members of Al Qaeda in Iraq had been killed last week during clashes south of Baghdad.
The latest explosion occurred outside a bakery in east Baghdad, killing at least nine people and injuring 10, police said.
The explosion occurred at 9:15 p.m. local time in New Baghdad, a mixed neighborhood located in the eastern part of the capital, Police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said.
Earlier a car packed with explosives hit a popular Shiite outdoor market in Husseiyniyah, 20 miles north of Baghdad, Col. Mohamedawi said. At least 25 people were killed and 65 wounded, he said.
And in Hillah, about 60 miles south of the capital, a bomb placed in a vehicle exploded at a car dealership, Capt. Muthana Khalid said. A doctor at the Hillah public hospital said the blast killed at least 12 people and wounded 32.
In Baghdad, mortar rounds hit the heavily guarded Interior Ministry and a nearby park, killing two government employees. Police also said The military said another U.S. soldier died Monday during combat in northern Iraq, and the bodies of two Marines missing after a helicopter crash in western Iraq over the weekend were recovered.
The AH-1 Cobra helicopter from 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing was on a maintenance test flight when it went down Saturday in the volatile Anbar region. The military said hostile fire was not suspected as the cause, but the crash was under investigation.
Amid the deteriorating security, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki held meetings aimed at finding new defense and interior ministers more than a week after his national unity government took office. Iraq's ethnic, sectarian and secular parties are struggling to agree on who should run the two crucial ministries, which oversee the army and the police.
Top Shiite officials said the U.S. Embassy had invited government representatives and the leaders of all the political blocs to a meeting, and they expected the names of new candidates to be discussed.
In the meantime, U.S. military commanders have moved about 1,500 combat troops from a reserve force in Kuwait into Anbar province to help local authorities establish order there. The province is an insurgent hotbed stretching from west of Baghdad to the Syrian border.
The military command in Iraq described the new deployment as short-term. The plan is to keep the latest troops in Anbar no longer than four months, said one military official, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details of the move.
The government identified the suspected terrorist captured Monday as Ahmed Hussein Dabash Samir al-Batawi and said he had confessed to hundreds of beheadings. He was arrested by a terrorist combat unit, which also seized documents, cell phones and computers that contained information on other wanted terrorists and Islamic extremist groups, the prime minister's office said.
The government released a mug shot of the suspect, who is balding, has a mustache and was wearing a white T-shirt with an identifying placard dangling from his neck.
In the mortar attack, rounds were fired by remote control from a car near the Interior Ministry compound in central Baghdad, police Capt. Mohammed Abdul-Ghani said.
One hit the ministry's third floor, killing two female employees and wounding a policeman and two janitors. The other landed in a park, wounding two city workers, Abdul-Ghani said. The Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry also was attacked in April.
Also in the capital, a roadside bomb killed one police officer and wounded four others, and police found the bodies of three blindfolded and handcuffed men who apparently had been tortured and shot in the head. A decapitated body was discovered floating in the river about 35 miles south of the capital.
CBS reporter Kimberly Dozier, a 39-year-old American, was listed in critical but stable condition at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in southern Germany following Monday's car bomb attack that killed her cameraman, Paul Douglas, 48, and soundman James Brolan, 42, both Britons, as well as a U.S. soldier and an Iraqi contractor.
Dozens of journalists have been injured, killed or kidnapped in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Parliament on Monday debated the violence in the capital and outlying provinces but failed to set up a commission to deal with the problem because of al-Maliki's inability to appoint ministers of defense and interior.
The Interior Ministry, which controls the police, has been promised to the Shiites. Sunni Arabs are to get the Defense Ministry, overseeing the army.
It is hoped the balance will enable al-Maliki to move ahead with a plan for Iraqis to take over all security duties in the next 18 months. He wants to attract army recruits from the Sunni Arab minority, which provides the core of the insurgency.
The U.S. Embassy said al-Maliki, Cabinet members and political leaders were to meet at a social gathering organized by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. Some legislators said the matter of the unfilled Cabinet positions would be discussed.
The remote possibility of a female candidate for interior minister was raised. Former Shiite Deputy Mariam al-Rays said she had been approached by the nomination committee of al-Maliki's Shiite party.
"There is no problem if an Iraqi woman runs this ministry according to a national program to combat terrorism and corruption and to restore security. Women from inside Iraq are well informed about the situation inside Iraq and know how to deal with it," she said.
The insurgents slain last week were well-known aides of the group's leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in an area south of Baghdad, police Maj. Gen. Hussein Abdul-Hadi said.
They were killed in clashes Friday in the nearby city of Latifiyah, he said, adding that police had been following the suspects for two months.
Police declined to release the names of the insurgents or give more information, pending an announcement by the Interior Ministry.
Separately, 249 prisoners who had been suspected of ties to the insurgency were released from three U.S. detention centers Tuesday, deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim Ali said.
Many of the detainees, who had been held at the Abu Ghraib, Camp Bucca and Fort Suse prisons, kissed the ground and touched their foreheads to express thanks to God.
The freed prisoners were part of a group of 2,000 cleared for release by a joint committee from the Justice, Interior and Human Rights ministries, as well as Americans, Ali said.
There are still 14,000 detainees, including five women, in prisons nationwide, Busho said.
To date, the board has reviewed the cases of more than 39,000 detainees, recommending more than 19,600 individuals for release, the military said.
In other violence, according to police and hospital officials:
• Three people were killed and 10 others were wounded in Ramadi, although the circumstances were unclear.
• A suicide car bomber tried to ram into an Iraqi army checkpoint in a village west of Mosul, but Iraqi soldiers opened fire, killing the driver.
• Masked gunmen killed a real estate broker, a baker and the owner of a convenience store in separate attacks in Baghdad.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.