View Full Version : Insurgents Storm Jail In Iraq's Sunni Heartland; Free All Prisoners

03-21-2006, 03:41 PM
Insurgents Storm Jail in Iraq's Sunni Heartland


Published: March 21, 2006

BAGDHAD, Iraq, March 21 — Insurgents returned to old tactics today and stormed a jail in the Sunni heartland at daybreak, killing 18 police officers and freeing all the prisoners inside.

The insurgents shelled the police station in Iraq with mortars and followed with grenades and machine guns, officials said.

More than 100 masked fighters surrounded the jail in Muqdadiya, 60 miles north of Baghdad, and blasted government forces with mortars, grenades and machine guns. The police returned fire and killed one insurgent, Interior Ministry officials said.

The attackers destroyed about 20 police vehicles and set fire to the police station and a nearby courthouse before escaping, the Iraqi officials said. An Iraqi army unit that tried to reach the scene to support the police during the attack was disabled by a roadside bomb as the convoy passed through a city gate.

American ground forces and two American OH-58A Kiowa helicopters rushed to the scene in support of Iraqi troops, said Sgt. Doug Anderson, a military spokesman. The helicopters came under small-arms fire, and one soldier was wounded, he said. The helicopters both landed safely.

It was the biggest raid of its kind in months, and it showed that even as sectarian tensions increase and more and more violence is connected to Sunni and Shiite rivalries, the anti-government insurgency rages on. There were also a number of bomb attacks today targeting government positions.

One mortar sailed into the Green Zone, where the American Embassy is located, right as a delegation of United States senators was meeting with Iraqi officials. No injuries were reported and such attacks are so frequent that children playing on a swing set nearby kept on swinging.

At a news conference after the meetings, Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, reiterated a point that American officials have been making ceaselessly during the past few weeks. The sooner Iraqi political leaders settle their differences and form a government, the better, because the American government believes that the violence in Iraq is fueled by an absence of clear authority.

"April is fine," Mr. Levin said, about the Iraqi leaders' plan to form a government by then. "But we need that commitment kept, in order for their to be continuing support for American troops to be kept in Iraq."

Muqdadiya is a mostly Sunni city of about 200,000 people 60 miles from the capital. In published interviews late last year, American military commanders said that while it still was afflicted by low-level insurgent shootings and bombings, it was no longer a stronghold of Al Qaeda in Iraq like the nearby city of Baquba, where larger attacks on police and army units are common.

Today's assault comes a day after a group of 20 insurgents attacked the Iraqi Army headquarters in the northern oil city of Kirkuk, using mortar bombs and heavy machine guns, but fled after American helicopters swooped into the area, said Capt. Raed Hussein al-Jumaili of the Iraqi Army. No casualties were reported in the firefight.

In today's raid, the mayor of Muqdadiya, Alewi Farhan, put the number of attackers at 200, according to Agence-France Presse. In an interview with the news service, he described a sophisticated operation lasting an hour and a half.

"The insurgents pulled off a very well-planned attack," he said, describing how car bomb sealed the eastern road to the site and a roadside bomb blocked the southern road, impeding reinforcements.

"They used the high building around the police station to get a good position against the police reinforcements," Mr. Farhan said.

American and Iraqi security forces had concentrated in recent days on protecting the millions of Shiite pilgrims who converged on the southern holy city of Karbala to commemorate the final day of mourning for Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, who died in A.D. 680. Several worshipers were killed in the pilgrimage, but a heavy security force patrolled Karbala on Monday and there were no reports of major violence.

But the wave of sectarian violence in the capital continued, as the Iraqi police found nine bodies in Baghdad on Monday, each handcuffed and blindfolded with gunshots to the head.

The bodies brought to more than 210 the number of victims of execution-style killings dumped and found in the streets and fetid swales of the capital in the past two weeks.

While bodies have turned up in the city periodically since the invasion, the frequency of such reports has leapt since the bombing of a major Shiite shrine last month in the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad. That attack provoked an eruption of reprisals, mostly by Shiite militias in eastern Baghdad against Sunni Arabs and their mosques, leaving hundreds dead.

The authorities have not declared a motive for most of the slayings since then, but many followed a pattern usually associated with sectarian reprisal killings, with the victims, many of them Sunni Arabs, pulled from their homes by gunmen and hauled away to their death.

Police investigators in Salahaddin Province have accused American troops of executing 11 civilians, including several children, during a raid last Wednesday on a house in Ishaqi, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, an Interior Ministry official said Monday. According to the investigators, the Americans had lined up the civilians and shot them, then killed livestock and destroyed the house, the official said.

A local police commander in Ishaqi told Knight-Ridder Newspapers that an autopsy had detected bullet wounds in all the victims' heads.

The American military admitted at the time that it had demolished the house using a ground attack and airstrikes, but only after insurgents began firing from the building. Three civilians — two women and a child — and one insurgent were killed in the attack, American officials said, and another insurgent was captured.

"The allegations do seem unlikely to me, but obviously we'll cooperate with local authorities if they ask for our assistance," an American military spokesman in Baghdad, Maj. Tim Keefe, said Monday. He said he did not know whether the military was conducting its own investigation.

In Baghdad, an improvised bomb exploded Monday under a vehicle carrying commandos from the Interior Ministry and several detainees, killing three of the commandos and three detainees in the Karrada neighborhood, and wounding two commandos and a detainee, a ministry official reported.

The wounded were taken to Yarmouk Hospital, where commandos, angered by the death of one of their men, attacked the injured detainee, a hospital official said. As doctors and hospital guards tried to intervene, the official said, commandos began firing their weapons into the air, prompting the doctors to walk off the job until they were provided with sufficient security.

Members of the medical staff at Yarmouk have frequently complained about the interference of unruly and violent Iraqi security forces in the emergency room. Weapons are prohibited inside the building, but they are ubiquitous nonetheless.

Also on Monday, a bomb exploded inside a coffee shop in a Sunni district of Baghdad, killing 3 people and wounding 22, the police said. A bomb also exploded under a bus parked outside a restaurant in eastern Baghdad, killing 4 people and wounding 10.

The police in Kirkuk found the bodies of two Iraqi soldiers who had been kidnapped two days before. The victims had been stabbed to death, the police said.