Suicide attackers kill 36 as death toll around Iraq hits at least 52

A man wearing an Iraqi army uniform blew himself up Wednesday in a crowded mess hall on an Iraqi army base north of Baghdad, while a suicide car bomber rammed into a police patrol in the capital in two attacks that killed 36 people.

The surge in violence, which left at least 52 people dead around Iraq, appeared aimed at derailing stepped up efforts by Shiite politicians to bring the disaffected Sunni Arab minority into the political process.

In a dramatic house raid, Iraqi and U.S. forces freed Australian hostage Douglas Wood, a 64-year-old engineer held by insurgents for 47 days. Wood, who is married to an American woman and lives in Alamo, California, thanked Iraqi troops for helping free him from insurgents holding him in western Baghdad.

In a message read in Baghdad by Australian counterterrorism chief Nick Warner, Wood said he was "extremely happy and relieved to be free again."

The Australian government refused to bend to the kidnappers' demands that Australia withdraw its 1,400 troops from Iraq. It sent a team of diplomats, police and military personnel to Baghdad to seek Wood's release. Warner said that "no ransom was paid" despite a request for a "very large" amount of money.

In eastern Baghdad, a suicide car bomber slammed into two police cars on patrol Wednesday, killing 10 people, including eight police officers, and injured another 23.

Five Iraqis were killed and another eight were injured when three mortar shells landed on a well-known Baghdad kebab restaurant, the Abu Ali, police said. A police headquarters building in western Baghdad's Shurta district was the apparent target, police said.

Insurgents kidnapped and killed two senior officers and a driver Wednesday who worked on the anti-terrorist squad in the oil rich northern city of Kirkuk. Brig. Gen. Naseh Mohie al-Deen, his son and driver Oqba, and Lt. Col. Khalid Ahmed, were found dumped streetside with gunshots to their heads.

The tribunal that will put Saddam Hussein on trial released its second video tape in a week Wednesday, this one showing an investigating judge questioning three senior officials of the former dictator's regime - including Saddam's half brother Sabawi Ibrahim.

A tape released Monday showed Saddam being questioned for his alleged role in the killing of 50 people thought to have been involed in a 1982 attempt on the former dictator's life.

Iraqi legislators, meanwhile, seemed close to agreement Wednesday on a demand by Sunni Arabs for more participation in the effort to draft a constitution.

A Shiite-dominated parliamentary committee drafting Iraq's new constitution offered a compromise Wednesday to the country's Sunni Arab minority in an effort to break a deadlock over demands they have a bigger say in drawing up the charter.

The offer, announced by committee chairman Hummam Hammoudi after a meeting of the 55-member body, suggested that 13 Sunni Arabs join the committee in a parallel body.

Two Sunni Arab representatives rejected Hammoudi's offer. The Sunni Arab community wants 25 people to join their two legislators already on the committee.

Representatives from the committee and the Sunni Arab community are scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the proposal.

An agreement on the constitution would help defuse growing sectarian tension between the majority Shiites, who control the government, and the Sunnis. The minority is thought to make up the core of an insurgency that has killed at least 1,071 people since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's government was announced on April 28.

Islamic extremist groups responsible for much of Iraq's violence, especially attacks involving suicide attacks, have threatened to kill any Sunni Arabs who cooperate. The groups, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq, regularly target Shiites and members of the security services.

Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the day's deadliest attack, a suicide bomber who walked into the crowded mess hall at an army base in Khalis, 70 kilometers (44 miles) north of Baghdad, and blew himself up among about 55 soldiers sitting down for lunch. The blast killed 26 soldiers and injured another 26, the army said.

Iraqi army Col. Saleh al-Obeidi said the man was wearing an army uniform and was strapped with about 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of explosives. He waited until soldiers had gathered for lunch before blowing himself up. The soldiers belonged to the Al-Salam battalion of the 2nd Brigade of the Iraqi army in Diyala province.

According to al-Obeidi, the man was apparently part of a group of construction workers hired to expand the mess hall's kitchen and "that's why he was able to go this far."

"The attacker picked the right time to carry out the attack, when two army groups were supposed to be inside at that hour for lunch. He blew up himself as soon as he entered the hall, avoiding any of the soldiers so they would not recognize that he was a stranger," al-Obeidi said.

He said the explosives were allegedly brought onto the base on Tuesday inside several trucks carrying construction materials. The blast, he said, was devastating.

"I couldn't recognize one body from another, body parts were scattered everywhere, because it was a huge blast, it is a fortified base, and we never believed any incident to occur inside this base," al-Obeidi said.

In an Internet statement posted on a militant web site, al-Qaida said the attacker "was invited to this lunch, and we ask Allah that he finishes his food in paradise."

It was the second attack involving a suicide bomber in two days. On Tuesday, a man wearing a similar belt loaded with explosives killed 23 people and wounded nearly 100 after blowing himself up outside a bank in Kirkuk. Al-Qaida's northern affiliate, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, claimed responsibility.

PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press Writer

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