U.S. base in Iraq attacked

Coordinated car bombings and gunfire kill two American soldiers

February 20, 2007|By Borzou Daragahi | Borzou Daragahi,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Insurgents launched a fiery raid on a recently opened U.S. outpost north of the capital yesterday morning, killing two U.S. soldiers and injuring 17 in a possible foreshadowing of attacks to come as a neighborhood-based Baghdad security plan takes shape.

Police and witnesses said suspected Sunni Arab insurgents used at least one suicide car bomb, mortars, rockets and small-arms fire to stage the daring attack in the agricultural town of Tarmiya.

Fighting sparked by the rare frontal assault on a U.S. base lasted hours and ended only after U.S. fighter jets and ground reinforcements arrived.

4 Americans dead

Other attacks around the capital and western Iraq killed dozens of Iraqis, most of them Shiite Muslims. The U.S. military also reported the deaths of four more troops since Saturday.

The latest violence coincided with Operation Enforcing the Law, a joint U.S.-Iraqi effort to bring order to the Baghdad area, in part by establishing small neighborhood bases like the one attacked yesterday.

The raid, as well as continued attacks on Shiite Muslim civilians, suggest that insurgents might be attempting to undermine the security plan by striking far-flung and lightly fortified outposts. At the same time, attacking Shiites in marketplaces and in law enforcement is seen as an attempt to goad Shiite militias back into the fight.

A group calling itself the Iraqi Islamic State, which has declared a Sunni government in several western and central provinces, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Tarmiya station was not part of the Baghdad security plan. But such bases are an integral part of the new strategy devised by Gen. David Petraeus, which calls for troops to move back into smaller community bases to reconnect with Iraqi residents and to keep an eye on Iraqi security forces, which are largely mistrusted as instruments of the country's sectarian civil war.

Trend reversal

The tactic effectively reverses the trend since 2004, when U.S. forces began re-deploying into impenetrable bases on the outskirts of Iraq's cities, lowering the American profile on Baghdad's streets, with the aim of putting Iraqi security forces in charge of the country.

Since that shift, Sunni insurgents have become more effective, able to conduct sophisticated and well-armed attacks on high-profile targets.

Insurgents also entrenched themselves in cities and towns infrequently visited by U.S. forces. Such was the case for Tarmiya, a small Sunni Arab agricultural town of 40,000 inhabitants along the west bank of the Tigris River about 25 miles north of the capital that has long been an insurgent stronghold.

Americans have used a former Iraqi police station at the town center as a U.S. base since the police at the station were threatened, kidnapped and killed about two months ago, police said.

Officials said at least one suicide car bomber either rammed into or drove up beside two trucks carrying fuel into the base about 7:30 a.m., igniting an explosion that sent flames dozens of feet into the air.

Insurgents in other vehicles then opened fire on the base with rockets mounted on a pickup truck and from a nearby building, Iraqi police said.

Insurgent mortars and small-arms fire added to the confusion as U.S. fighter jets, helicopters and ground forces responded in a battle that raged until noon, said a police official and witnesses.

Attacks in capital

A day after car bombs killed at least 56 civilians in a Shiite-dominated east Baghdad neighborhood, Sunni insurgents continued to launch attacks yesterday on Shiite civilians and Iraqi security forces.

Explosions thudded across the capital throughout the day. U.S. fighter jets scoured the skies as ground forces continued aggressive raids and patrols that have tripped up organized Shiite militias and reduced the number of sectarian death-squad executions.

Iraqis also were riveted by an account of an alleged rape by a young woman who spoke on television last night. The teary-eyed woman, a Sunni Arab whose face was covered, alleged in a television interview that Iraqi security forces searching her west Baghdad neighborhood as part of the security plan raped her yesterday.

Iraqi officials said they were investigating the potentially explosive allegation.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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