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12 car bombs in Iraq cause relatively few casualties
Updated: 2006-01-01 19:41

Twelve car bombs exploded around Iraq on Sunday, including eight in Baghdad that detonated within about a two-hour window, as insurgents continued their attacks in the new year. The bombs injured at least 20 people but killed no one, police said.

A Sudanese official on Sunday said six kidnapped employees had been released two days after Sudan announced it would close its embassy in Baghdad, meeting kidnappers' demands. A Cypriot man kidnapped in Iraq four months ago also was released, a relative said Sunday.

In Baghdad, the first car bomb exploded at about 8:15 a.m. as Iraqi army soldiers were patrolling a northern neighborhood, wounding two soldiers, police Lt. Bilal Ali Majid said.

Seven more car bombs exploded over the next 2{ hours, wounding a total of nine people, police said. One suicide attacker died. Police explosives experts later detonated a ninth car bomb in a controlled explosion.

Just north of Tikrit, a suicide car bomber detonated his car near an American patrol, injuring six civilians, police 1st Lt. Ali Jasmin said. Iraqi police had no information on American casualties and U.S. officials had no immediate information.

Two car bombs also exploded in Kirkuk, including one that targeted an American convoy, causing no injuries, police Brig. Sarhat Qadir said. The second bomb targeted a police convoy, wounding three civilians, Qadir said.

U.S. Brig. Gen. Donald Alston on Sunday said officials had expected attacks to increase after the security measures put in place for the December 15 parliamentary elections were relaxed.

"We're seeing that increase right now," he said. "This is perceived, inappropriately I would say, or inaccurately perhaps, by the enemy as a time of vulnerability as the government transitions ... to a permanent government."

The six kidnapped employees of Sudan's embassy were released on Saturday, a Sudanese official said Sunday.

"We talked to the six of them by phone and they told us that they are now at the house of one of their friends," the Sudanese embassy's charge d'affairs, Mohamed Ahmed Khalil, said.

The Sudanese Foreign Ministry reported on December 24 that six of its embassy employees had been kidnapped _ including the mission's second secretary.

Al-Qaida in Iraq, which has kidnapped and killed a string of Arab diplomats and embassy employees in a campaign to scare Arab governments from setting up full diplomatic missions in Iraq, had set a Saturday deadline for Sudan to "announce clearly that it is cutting its relations" with the Iraqi government, or it would kill the Sudanese hostages.

Sudan on Friday said it would close its embassy in Baghdad in an effort to win their release.

In July, al-Qaida abducted the top Egyptian envoy in Baghdad, Ihab al-Sherif, and two Algerian diplomats. It later announced they had been killed. The group also snatched two Moroccan embassy employees in June and said that it had sentenced them to death, though it never stated whether it carried out the sentences.

Garabet Jekerjian, 41, who holds both Cypriot and Lebanese citizenship, was kidnapped by gunmen in Baghdad in August. His aunt, Rita Medzadourian, confirmed Sunday that he had been released. It was unclear when he was freed.

He had worked for Geto Trading Ltd., a Cyprus-based company supplying food and alcoholic drinks to U.S. forces. Islam prohibits consumption of alcohol.

On Saturday, at least 20 people were killed in a series of bombings and shootings.

A U.S. soldier also died from wounds Saturday from a mortar attack in Baghdad, the military said, putting the American military death toll in 2005 at 841 _ five short of 2004's record total despite political progress and dogged U.S. and Iraqi efforts to quash the insurgency. A total of 846 troops died in 2004 and 485 in 2003.

The United States hopes that as more Iraqi police and army forces are trained, they will slowly take over responsibility for security from American troops. Much of that expectation hinges on the ability of Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups to form a broad-based government that will have the legitimacy to deflate the Sunni Arab-led insurgency.

"American Idol 3" star Diana DeGarmo and other entertainers treated hundreds of U.S. forces in Baghdad to a New Year's Eve show on Saturday.

The troops shivered in cold temperatures before a tan stage at Camp Victory as DeGarmo pulled several on stage to dance. She was followed by comedian Reggie McFadden and country music singer Michael Peterson, who were traveling with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace as part of a six-nation holiday tour to thank the troops.

Iraq's electoral commission, meanwhile, repeated a call Saturday for the country's political groups to remove from their tickets 90 former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party before it issues final election results this week.

In other violence Sunday, about a dozen gunmen attacked a police checkpoint in Mosul, killing one bystander and injuring three policemen, police Brig. Saed Ahmed said.

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