At least 26 Iraqis are killed

15 Shiite pilgrims, two police officers die in attacks on two vehicles


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Heavily armed insurgents launched an assault yesterday on a police station near Baghdad, killing a battalion commander and three of his men in the second such large-scale operation in two days.

Meanwhile, separate rebel attacks on two vehicles in the capital killed 15 pilgrims coming home from the southern holy city of Karbala - the deadliest incident of this week's annual mourning period observed by millions of Shiite Muslims.

The bloodshed demonstrated Iraq's continuing insurgent threat on multiple fronts. In the month since they blew up the Golden Mosque, a Shiite shrine in Samarra, Sunni Arab insurgents have been locked with Shiite militias in an escalating conflict that has led to the killings of hundreds of Iraqis of both sects, many unarmed victims ambushed on the road or dragged from their homes in the night.

Yesterday's toll included 11 men whose bodies turned up in various parts of Baghdad, some of them blindfolded and bearing signs of torture.

Amid the violence, insurgents have staged daring attacks on Iraqi government and U.S. targets.

Police station raid

The latest was yesterday's pre-dawn raid on the police facility in Madain, 15 miles southeast of the capital, by dozens of insurgents whose exact number was unclear because of darkness. The city is at the northern tip of the so-called triangle of death, a mostly Sunni region rife with sectarian violence.

The attack there was slightly smaller in scale than the dawn raid Tuesday on a judicial and police compound in Muqdadiyah, 60 miles northeast of Baghdad, in which at least 17 policemen and guards were killed and 33 prisoners freed.

Emerging from a nearby palm grove, the attackers in Madain fired 14 mortars into the compound, which houses the City Hall and a police battalion, triggering a two-hour firefight that lasted until daybreak, the Interior Ministry said.

The insurgents also fired rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles but failed to overrun the compound. In addition to the four killed, five other police officers were wounded. There was no indication of insurgent casualties.

Later police raided homes in the area, detaining 76 men for questioning, the ministry said. One was identified as a Syrian who had insurgent leaflets.

Iraqi police and soldiers have been stretched thin guarding the estimated 2 million black-clad pilgrims who walked to and from Karbala this week to mark the 40th and final day of the annual mourning period for Imam Hussein, grandson of the prophet Muhammad.

18 wounded

Insurgents fired machine guns into a bus taking pilgrims home through Baghdad's Sunni-dominated Amiriya neighborhood yesterday, killing 14 and wounding 18, police said. Two policemen died in a shootout with the assailants.

One pilgrim was killed and 22 were wounded in a later insurgent attack on a pickup truck in the capital's Adil neighborhood, police said.

At least five other Iraqis were reported killed yesterday, including the interpreter for two British soldiers whose foot patrol was hit by a roadside bomb blast in the southern city of Basra. Both soldiers were wounded.

Richard Boudreaux writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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