A suicide car bomber blew himself up outside the oil ministry in Baghdad yesterday, killing seven people, as US-led forces prepared to release some 1,000 detainees from the notorious Abu Ghraib jail.
The attack happened at 7:45am when the bomber rammed his car against a bus carrying oil ministry staff, an interior ministry official said. Twenty-seven people were also wounded.
Most of the victims were from the oil ministry, but at least two of those killed were policemen from a nearby police academy.
The attack came a day after at least 24 people were killed in bombings in Baghdad and other parts of the country.
The al-Qaeda Organization in the Land of Two Rivers, headed by Iraq's most wanted man Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Baghdad on Sunday that targeted a police convoy.
Zarqawi has declared an "all-out war" on Iraq's majority Shiite community, adding to fears of an upsurge in violence ahead of the October 15 referendum on the country's post-Saddam Hussein constitution.
In other violence, nine members of the same family traveling to a recruitment center to join the Iraqi army, were shot dead Sunday near Al Tarmiyah, some 40km north of Baghdad, police said.
Meanwhile, US and Iraqi forces were set to start releasing some 1,000 detainees from Abu Ghraib, a jail on the outskirts of Baghdad where a prisoner abuse scandal last year dealt a severe blow to the credibility of the US-led occupation of Iraq.
"In the spirit of the holy month of Ramadan, the Iraqi government requested a special release board and worked with multinational forces to expedite the release of more than 1,000 security detainees from Abu Ghraib," the US military said in a statement.
"The release will take place over the next week with the first 500 detainees released on September 26," it added.
Those released, following a review of their cases, were not guilty of serious offenses and have "confessed to their crimes, renounced violence and pledged to be good citizens of Iraq," the statement added.
One of the US soldiers accused of abusing prisoners, Lynndie England, is currently facing a court martial in the US for her part in the scandal.
New accusations of abuse of prisoners by US forces emerged last week when the New York-based Human Rights Watch group said soldiers from the elite 82nd Airborne Division had routinely beaten and mistreated Iraqi prisoners at a base near Fallujah with the approval of their superior officers.
Human Rights Watch said three soldiers provided the accounts of abuse, which they said occurred at a base near Fallujah from September 2003 to April 2004.
They alleged that a sergeant broke one prisoner's leg with a metal baseball bat. Others were made to hold 19-liter jugs of water with their arms outstretched, according to the report.
Detainees, known as PUCs or "persons under control," were subjected to stress positions, extremes of hot and cold, sleep deprivation, denied food and water and were piled in human pyramids, the report said.