Iraq's Interior Ministry attacked

2 police officers killed by militants

violence kills more than 20 nationwide

September 06, 2005|By Alex Rodriguez | Alex Rodriguez,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD - In a rare strike on a heavily fortified target in the Iraqi capital, insurgents attacked the country's Interior Ministry building entrance with automatic gunfire and grenades yesterday, killing two police officers and wounding five others.

Elsewhere yesterday, guerrilla violence spanned the country, from the northern city of Tal Afar to the southern port of Basra, and officials said fighters linked to al-Qaida fighters had seized large areas of the strategic city of Qaim. In all, 20 people were killed and another 20 wounded.

The violence included a roadside bomb attack on a convoy near Basra that killed two British soldiers. In the Baghdad neighborhood of Saidiyah, a car bomb was detonated near a U.S. military Humvee, wounding four U.S. soldiers, the U.S. military said.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry said yesterday that 11 people died in a suicide car bomb attack in the Euphrates river valley town of Hit. Three of the dead were Iraqi troops. It was unclear when the attack occurred.

U.S. military officials have said they expect increased insurgent attacks as the Oct. 15 ratification vote on Iraq's draft constitution approaches. An average of about 540 insurgency attacks occur across Iraq each week, most of them concentrated in four of Iraq's 18 provinces, U.S. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said late last month.

The attack on Interior Ministry police occurred yesterday just after dawn. Carloads of insurgents stopped on an overpass overlooking the entrance to the ministry building, a police lieutenant said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The gunmen opened fire and lobbed several hand grenades at Iraqi police officers posted at the ministry's entrance, about a half-mile from the ministry building, the police lieutenant said. The Associated Press reported that the insurgents used rocket-propelled grenades, not hand grenades, in the attack.

"We exchanged gunfire with them," the lieutenant said. "One of the insurgents got injured, and they put him in the car." The clash lasted several minutes, after which the gunmen speeded away.

A statement posted on an Islamic Web site claimed responsibility for the attack in the name of al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

U.S. Apache and Black Hawk helicopters flew over central Baghdad after the firefight, and U.S. Army patrols in armored vehicles combed the streets looking for the attackers.

Elsewhere, Iraqi officials said, al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters had taken control of Qaim, on the Syrian border, after weeks of fighting between an Iraqi tribe that supports the insurgents and one that opposes them.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said much of Qaim, 200 miles west of Baghdad, had been abandoned after weeks of tribal fighting.

U.S. Marines who operate around Qaim have complained privately that they don't have enough U.S. or Iraqi forces to secure the area properly.

The attack on the British soldiers occurred near Zubayr, about 12 miles west of Basra in southern Iraq. The roadside bomb destroyed their armored Land Rover, raising to 95 the number of British military personnel killed in Iraq since March 2003.

A mortar attack in Baqouba, 46 miles north of Baghdad, killed four Iraqi civilians and wounded four others.

Fighting continued for a fourth day in the northern city of Tal Afar, where U.S. and Iraqi troops have been trying to destroy cells of insurgents. Eight Iraqi civilians, including five children, were killed in the fighting yesterday.

In Doha, Qatar, the U.S. Central Command said U.S. jets launched airstrikes Sunday on insurgent positions near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, dropping two 500-pound bombs on an insurgent staging area.

Yesterday, gunmen seized one of the sons of the governor of Anbar province, Mamoun Sami Rashid al-Alwani, officials said on condition of anonymity for fear of insurgent reprisal. The abduction occurred in the provincial capital, Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

Also yesterday, Iraq's president said he and the other top Kurdish leader had agreed to changes in the draft constitution to mollify concerns among Arab countries that the wording in the charter would loosen Iraqi ties with the rest of the Arab world.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Zaid Sabah, the Associated Press and Tribune news services and contributed to this article.

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