Rebels kill 16, raise al Qaeda flag

Group try­ing to re­group while coun­try lacks po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity

Austin American-Statesman - - FRIDAYBRIEFING - By Re­becca San­tana

BAGHDAD — Mil­i­tants flew an al Qaeda flag over a Baghdad neigh­bor­hood Thurs­day af­ter killing 16 se­cu­rity of­fi­cials and burn­ing some of their bod­ies in an af­ter­noon at­tack that served as a grim re­minder of con­tin­ued in­sur­gent strength in Iraq’s cap­i­tal.

It was the blood­i­est at­tack in a day that in­cluded the deaths of 23 Iraqi sol­diers, po­lice­men and other se­cu­rity forces across the coun­try who were tar­geted by shoot­ings and road­side bombs.

The may­hem serves as a stark warn­ing that in­sur­gents are try­ing to make a come­back three months af­ter two lead­ers were killed in an airstrike on their safe­house, and as the U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence de­creases day by day.

The com­plex at­tack be­gan when mil­i­tants struck a check­point in the largely Sunni neigh­bor­hood of Aza­miyah, once a strong­hold of in­sur­gents that in re­cent years has be­come more peace­ful. Then the mil­i­tants set it on fire, burn­ing sev­eral of the sol­diers’ bod­ies, ac­cord­ing to an army of­fi­cer who was on pa­trol in the neigh­bor­hood. Min­utes later, at­tack­ers det­o­nated three road­side bombs nearby.

Hos­pi­tal, po­lice and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials all con­firmed the death toll.

Po­lice and army of­fi­cials said 16 to 20 as­sailants took part in the highly or­ches­trated at­tack; all ap­peared to have es­caped.

A day be­fore the Aza­miyah at­tack, Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den pre­dicted there would not be an ex­treme out­break of sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence in Iraq as all but 50,000 U.S. forces leave the coun­try at the end of Au­gust. He said the Amer­i­can troops left be­hind would be more than enough to help Iraqi forces main­tain se­cu­rity.

There’s been lit­tle in­di­ca­tion since Iraq’s March 7 elec­tion that a govern­ment can be formed be­fore the Mus­lim hol­i­day of Ra­madan be­gins in mid-Au­gust and brings a halt to busi­ness in much of the Mid­dle East.

As politi­cians bicker, Iraqis point to such vi­o­lent attacks as Thurs­day’s as a clear in­di­ca­tion that the ter­ror groups are try­ing to use the po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity to re­group.

Of­fi­cials in Aza­miyah said the provoca­tive flag-plant­ing and bold at­tack are part of an at­tempt by the ter­ror group to once again in­fil­trate the Sunni neigh­bor­hood.

“Al Qaeda is try­ing their best to re­turn to Iraq or to Aza­miyah, be­cause they have no ex­is­tence here now,” said a mem­ber of the Aza­miyah pro­vin­cial coun­cil, Haitham al-Azami. “Al Qaeda, by this act in­tends to pre­tend that they have an ex­is­tence and to show their mus­cles.”

The day­light at­tack was the bold­est move by mil­i­tants since their com­mando-style as­sault on the cen­tral bank in June that left 26 peo­ple dead dur­ing the morn­ing rush hour. Sui­cide bomb­ings, road­side bombs and night­time as­sas­si­na­tions are part of their pat­tern of vi­o­lence.

Khalid Mo­hammed

Iraqi se­cu­rity forces gather at a check­point in Baghdad that was at­tacked by up to 20 mil­i­tants Thurs­day. The armed as­sault was fol­lowed by the det­o­na­tion of three road­side bombs nearby.

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