Iraqi officers die in fighting

Police are targeted in car bombing, ambush

At least a dozen reported dead

Marines battle insurgents in firefight near Fallujah

October 18, 2004|By Ashraf Khalil | Ashraf Khalil,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A car bomb attack in central Baghdad and an ambush in southern Iraq killed at least a dozen Iraqi police officers yesterday as insurgents continued their violent campaign against the country's security forces.

West of the capital, Marines engaged in a nine-hour firefight with insurgents near Fallujah. Witnesses reported that as many as 50 U.S. tanks and armored vehicles took part in the battle.

As fighting raged, American forces called in several warplanes, and more than 10 suspected insurgent positions were bombed, the U.S. military said. Troops briefly entered the outskirts of the rebel stronghold before withdrawing.

There were no immediate detailed reports on U.S. or Iraqi casualties.

The car bombing and ambush of Iraqi police come as Iraqi and U.S. officials fear a repeat of the surge in attacks that ushered in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan last year. The period of fasting began last week.

The car bomber struck about 11 p.m. at a police checkpoint on Freedom Square in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Jadreya. Police officer Ali Hussein said the bomber may have been targeting Tamer Janabi, chief of the Baghdad Police Emergency Unit, whose convoy was supposed to be crossing the square at that time.

The blast left a 3-foot-wide crater, set four cars ablaze and rattled the walls of the Hamra Hotel, which is home to much of Baghdad's dwindling foreign press corps.

Casualty reports from the attack varied. Witness Qassim Kadhim said he saw at least three dead police officers and at least 20 people wounded, including civilians. But an Arkansas National Guard soldier on the scene, who declined to give his name, estimated the death toll at seven.

Earlier in the day, gunmen ambushed a minibus ferrying police officers from a training course in Jordan back to their home in Karbala, south of Baghdad. The attack near Latifeya reportedly killed nine police officers.

The stretch of highway between Latifeya and Yusifeya, about 20 miles southwest of Baghdad, is a notorious danger zone for roadside ambushes. U.S. troops have conducted a series of sweeps through the region in recent weeks in an attempt to clear out insurgents.

In Fallujah, yesterday evening brought relative calm after hours of fighting along the city's eastern approaches.

According to the U.S. military, insurgents used small-arms fire, machine-guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades in the battles. Marines responded with small-arms fire, tank guns and artillery. As the fighting intensified, airplanes were called in in the late morning, and airstrikes continued into the afternoon.

The U.S. military suspects Jordanian militant Abu Musab Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group is using Fallujah as a base of operations.

U.S. forces sealed off the city last week, after interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi demanded that residents turn over foreign insurgents or face a full-scale invasion.

Negotiations between the Iraqi government and Fallujah community leaders broke down last week, and U.S. forces arrested the city's top negotiator Friday as he attempted to flee with his family.

Iraqi national security adviser Qassim Daoud said in a statement yesterday that "the door is still open for any initiative, effort, or attempt to avoid using military options."

As fighting continued in Fallujah, Allawi visited the Baghdad slum of Sadr City yesterday to review the progress of a weapons buyback program. The area has been a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia led by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, but his fighters have been turning in weapons in recent days, and al-Sadr has expressed interest in joining the political process.

As Allawi's convoy made its way toward the stadium where the weapons were being turned in, a mortar fell at the site. Two Iraqi national guardsmen and a civilian were later reported killed in the strike.

The prime minister's convoy apparently detoured to another part of the district, where Allawi met with local officials. He then toured a sewage treatment plant and finally returned to the stadium to confer with al-Sadr representatives.

Allawi called the meeting a success, saying: "I am very thrilled and pleased that things are moving in the right direction and arms are being surrendered to the Iraqi government. I call upon all Iraqi people ... to surrender their weapons and to respect the rule of law and to be part of the political process."

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