Rebels launch attacks in Baghdad

Raid on police station, explosions at mosque leave at least 30 dead

December 04, 2004|By Liz Sly | Liz Sly,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - In the worst day of violence since U.S. forces claimed victory in the battle for Fallujah, insurgents stormed a Baghdad police station and bombed a Shiite mosque, killing at least 30 people and demonstrating their continued capacity to strike in Iraq's capital.

Insurgents also launched multiple attacks in the northern city of Mosul, battling U.S. forces and overrunning several neighborhoods. Though U.S. forces said they killed 22 fighters in one engagement, residents reported that insurgents appeared to be roaming freely throughout the western half of the city.

In separate incidents, two American soldiers were reported killed, one when a roadside bomb targeted his convoy in northern Baghdad, wounding three other soldiers. One died and two were injured in a similar attack in the northern city of Kirkuk, the military said.

The violence ended a period of relative calm in the capital, tempering the optimism expressed by some U.S. commanders that by routing insurgents from their stronghold in Fallujah would undermine their capacity to disrupt Iraq's elections in January.

Iraq's bloodiest day since the assault on Fallujah began at dawn, when a large group of masked insurgents stormed a police station in the al-Amil district of southwestern Baghdad.

"We were woken by the sound of rockets, guns and bombs and then we heard guys shouting `Allahu akbar,'" said Mohammed al-Saadi, who lives near the police station. "We didn't know who they were, but I think they were terrorists. They entered the police station, and there was a lot of shooting"

The insurgents set fire to police cars, stole uniforms, weapons and ammunition, and released about 35 prisoners held in the station's cells, in an echo of the assaults against Mosul police stations last month that precipitated the collapse of the police force there. At least 16 police officers were reported killed in yesterday's attack.

Police reinforcements, backed by U.S. troops, armored vehicles and helicopters, later sealed off the area and spent most of the day scouring the neighborhood for the insurgents.

Moments after the attack on the police station was launched, a suicide bomber drove a minivan packed with explosives into a Shiite mosque in the hard-line Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah just as dawn prayers were ending, killing 14 people and wounding 19, according to hospital officials.

Many of the dead were worshipers, but the casualties also included residents who came out of their homes to inspect the damage caused by a smaller explosion that occurred right before the suicide bomber rammed the minivan into the mosque wall, said Walid Yasseen, 33, a taxi driver who lives nearby. Yasseen said he headed toward the mosque as soon as he heard the first explosion.

The attack on a Shiite mosque in a Sunni neighborhood long known for its sympathies to the insurgency risks inflaming the sectarian rifts that have begun to emerge over plans to hold elections in January for a new national assembly.

A few hours later, masked insurgents took to the streets around the Abu Hanifa mosque in the same neighborhood, and gunmen opened fire on nearby police, triggering a two-hour firefight, residents said.

The fiercest battles of the day took place in Mosul, the northern city that has emerged as a new stronghold for the insurgency. A large force of 70 insurgent fighters attacked a U.S. convoy with rockets, small-arms fire and roadside bombs, triggering a three-hour firefight in which 22 insurgents were killed, according to Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, the military's spokesman in Mosul.

Meanwhile, yesterday in Berlin a flurry of hectic phone calls between Islamic radicals led German authorities to arrest three Iraqis suspected of planning to attack Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi while he visited Germany yesterday, the Associated Press reported.

The three men belong to Ansar al-Islam, which U.S. authorities have linked to al-Qaida and which has launched attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq since last year's U.S.-led invasion of the country, federal prosecutor Kay Nehm said.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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