Gun­men kill 25 po­lice, raise al Qaeda bat­tle flag

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY SAMEER N. YACOUB

BAGH­DAD | A gang of gun­men wear­ing mil­i­tary-style uni­forms and car­ry­ing forged ar­rest war­rants killed 25 po­lice Mon­day, then hoisted the bat­tle flag of al Qaeda in a care­fully planned early morn­ing shoot­ing spree in western Iraq, of­fi­cials said.

The killings in Ha­ditha high­light al Qaeda’s suc­cess in re­gain­ing a foothold in an area it once dom­i­nated through ex­e­cut­ing po­lice and mur­der­ing city of­fi­cials.

By go­ing af­ter po­lice, the ter­ror­ists demon­strate to the res­i­dents of Ha­ditha, a desert city closer to the Syr­ian bor­der than to Bagh­dad, how iso­lated they are from the cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s pro­tec­tion and in­tim­i­date those who want to join the se­cu­rity forces.

The killings Mon­day morn­ing demon­strated a high de­gree of co­or­di­na­tion, knowl­edge of their tar­gets and a bold­ness that in­di­cated lit­tle fear of the lo­cal se­cu­rity forces’ abil­ity to fight back.

The vi­o­lence be­gan with an at­tack on a sub­ur­ban check­point at about 2 a.m. in Ha­ditha and ended with the gang dis­ap­pear­ing into the desert a half-hour later.

“We con­sider this at­tack as a se­ri­ous se­cu­rity breach, and we be­lieve that al Qaeda or groups linked to it are be­hind this,” said Mo­hammed Fathi, spokesman for the gov­er­nor of Iraq’s western An­bar prov­ince where Ha­ditha is lo­cated.

Iraqi of­fi­cials de­scribed a sys­tem­atic plot to kill po­lice in Ha­ditha, 140 miles north­west of Bagh­dad, with at­tack­ers dis­guis­ing them­selves in mil­i­tary uni­forms and driv­ing cars painted to look like Iraqi In­te­rior Min­istry ve­hi­cles.

Mr. Fathi said the gang claimed they were mil­i­tary of­fi­cials with ar­rest war­rants for city po­lice. They were stopped at a check­point out­side Ha­ditha, where they took away the guards’ mo­bile phones be­fore shoot­ing nine of them, he said.

The gang’s con­voy, de­scribed by one Ha­ditha po­lice lieu­tenant as stretch­ing 13 cars long, then stopped at the homes of two Ha­ditha po­lice com­man­ders, in­clud­ing the colonel who served as the city’s SWAT team leader. Bran­dish­ing the fake ar­rest war­rants, the gun­men forced the com­man­ders into the con­voy and shot both less than a quar­ter-mile away, Mr. Fathi said.

The gang had false ar­rest war­rants for 15 po­lice of­fi­cials in Ha­ditha, he added. As their con­voy moved through the city, they were stopped at an­other check­point near the main mar­ket.

A fierce gun­bat­tle broke out, with the gang rais­ing the black flag of al Qaeda in a show of de­fi­ance.

Six po­lice­men were killed in that skir­mish, and an­other six were killed as se­cu­rity forces chased the gang through the city, Mr. Fathi said.

Most of the gang es­caped, flee­ing north into a desert area in bor­der­ing Nin­eveh prov­ince known as Jazeera, ac­cord­ing to a po­lice lieu­tenant in Ha­ditha. On their way out, they killed an­other two po­lice­men at a check­point on Ha­ditha’s out­skirts, Mr. Fathi said.

Po­lice at the scene said three of the at­tack­ers were killed.

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