U.S. and Iraqi authorities freed 500 detainees from the notorious Abu Ghraib prison on Monday in a goodwill gesture to Sunnis ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Three U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq Monday in two separate attacks involving roadside bombs, the military said Monday. One of the attacks occurred early in the day in western Baghdad, killing two American soldiers, the military said in a statement. The third U.S. soldier, working with the 42nd Brigade, was killed about 50 miles southeast of Baghdad, the military said.
Earlier, insurgents killed at least 10 people with a suicide bomb targeting police and government workers. At least six of the dead were policemen.
After a brief ceremony outside the prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, the 500 freed detainees left the area on public buses. They were the first of 1,000 to be freed before Ramadan begins next week, the U.S. military said.
Abu Ghraib gained international notoriety after U.S. military personnel running the prison were charged with humiliating and assaulting detainees there.
Arab governments often pardon nonviolent offenders during Ramadan. But the move this week also appeared to be part of a government effort to persuade citizens to vote in the Oct. 15 national referendum on Iraq's draft constitution, particularly the Sunni minority.
In related developments:
On Sunday, at least 33 Iraqis were killed during a day of stepped-up violence. Gunmen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ambushed an Iraqi patrol in an eastern Baghdad slum, and U.S. forces joined a 90-minute gunbattle, killing as many as eight of the attackers in the first significant violence in the neighborhood in nearly a year.
Elsewhere in Baghdad on Sunday, armed men pulled off a daring armored car robbery, killing two guards and escaping with $850,000, and a suicide car bomber slammed into a convoy carrying Interior Ministry commandos, killing seven of them and two civilians.
South of the capital, two separate bicycle bombings in town markets killed at least seven people and wounded dozens Sunday.
In Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, three mortar shells landed in a residential district. One shell hit a house, killing seven members of one family, including children, according to police Capt. Laith Muhammed.
Approval of the constitution would be an important step in the country's democratic transformation. But many Sunni leaders and insurgents are calling for a boycott or a "no" vote in the referendum. They say the document would leave minority Sunnis with far less power than the country's Kurds and majority Shiites.
If two-thirds of voters in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces reject the charter, a new government must be formed and the process of writing a constitution starts over.
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