Sunni Insurgents in New Campaign to Kill Officials
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Eight policemen have been killed, among them the police chief of Baquba, the largest city in Diyala Province. Two other police chiefs survived attacks, though one was left in critical condition, and about 30 police officers were wounded, according to reports from local security officers.
“We warned the government just a few days ago that there is a new plan by terrorist groups to target senior governmental officials, and particularly Interior Ministry officials,” said Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, the deputy interior minister for information and national investigations. The Interior Ministry is dominated by Shiites.
One group, the Islamic State of Iraq, took responsibility on Tuesday for the attack in Diyala, which killed at least 18 people on Monday. The group has ties to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown extremist group whose leadership has foreign ties, according to American intelligence officials.
The latest outbreak of violence closely follows the concerted efforts of President Bush and Gen. David H. Petraeus to portray the American troop “surge” as having succeeded in bringing more stability to Iraq. Iraqi officials said Tuesday that the attacks might well have been intended to blunt that message.
“The main reason behind all these attacks are the signs of improvement of the security situation mentioned in the Crocker-Petraeus report,” said Tahseen al-Sheikhly, the Iraqi spokesman for the security plan, in a reference to the recent Congressional testimony of General Petraeus and the American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker. “The terrorist groups are just trying to say to the world that the report did not reflect the reality of the security situation in Iraq.”
Mr. Sheikhly played down the recent violence, though, saying the groups were seeking publicity to compensate for their inability to conduct major offensive operations, which have been sharply curtailed by the surge.
Indeed, the enormous car and truck bombs that plagued Baghdad for so long have been absent in recent weeks. But the string of attacks this week served as a reminder of the insurgency’s persistence, particularly in areas outside of Baghdad and its environs.
In addition to the attack on Monday in Diyala, insurgents struck in Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk, Falluja, Kut and Samarra. The strikes occurred primarily in mixed areas of Shiites and Sunni Arabs or in exclusively Sunni Arab areas where there is fighting between Sunni Arab tribes and extremist groups like Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Each attack on its own would hardly be notable, since almost every day in Iraq brings a few roadside bombings and shootings, but so many attacks singling out similar victims suggest a more concerted campaign.
The new assassination campaign was announced on an Islamist Web site on Sept. 15, just two days after the killing of Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, also known as Abu Risha, the Sunni Arab leader of the tribal Awakening Council in Anbar Province, which was leading the fight there against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
In an audiotape, the militants announced that they would begin a new series of attacks to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and that they would focus their efforts on rival tribal figures and collaborators. Sunni Arab militant groups have a history of using such high-profile killings to sow fear in the public and to discourage people from working with the government.
That promise seemed to have been borne out in the Baquba and Samarra attacks. In both, the targets were meetings where tribal figures and Iraqi officials were discussing efforts to defeat Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
Throughout the war, the Iraqi Army and the police have been regular targets of insurgents, who regard the security forces as agents of the Shiite-dominated government. However, the attacks on the Iraqi security forces recently had appeared to slacken somewhat; the past few days signaled an end to that trend.
In the recent violence, several of the attackers were suicide bombers — a signature of Sunni Arab extremists — either driving cars or wearing suicide vests.
The most lethal attack was on Monday evening in Baquba, when a man wearing a suicide vest walked into a reconciliation meeting at a Shiite mosque in Shifta, a suburb of the provincial capital, and exploded his device as several hundred people drank tea after breaking the daylong Ramadan fast, according to an American military report.
The police chief, Brig. Ali Dlyan, was killed along with 11 other police officers, two of whom were senior commanders. There were differing accounts of the death toll, with the American military saying that 24 died and 37 were wounded and Diyala health officials saying they had received 18 bodies. The Baquba hospital reported receiving 27 with wounds.
The governor of Diyala Province, who was wounded in the attack, was saved from death by his bodyguards, who saw the bomber going toward the governor and threw themselves on top of him. All five of his bodyguards died and the governor had to be dragged from underneath them, said a provincial official in Diyala who rushed to the scene to help with the rescue. He requested anonymity for fear of becoming a target.
The attacks on the police continued Tuesday, with the bodies of three more policemen turning up in Diyala.
In Basra on Tuesday, a suicide car bomber attacked the police headquarters during the morning check-in, killing three people, including a policeman, and wounding 17 police officers.
In the middle of the afternoon on Tuesday in the northern city of Mosul, a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt attacked Col. Abid Hamid, police chief of Abu Tamam, an area of Mosul, said Brig. Said al-Jubori, the police media officer for Nineveh Province. He survived, but is in critical condition.
A roadside bomb exploded at dawn in Falluja as an Iraqi police patrol passed. One policeman was killed and another was wounded.
In Kirkuk on Monday, a roadside bomb was detonated near the convoy of Maj. Gen. Jamal Taher, the city’s police chief. It failed to kill him, but wounded one of his bodyguards.
In Samarra on Monday, a local citizens group that had gathered at the mayor’s house to organize opposition to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia was attacked by gunmen. Four people were badly wounded. In Kut, the provincial capital of Wasit Province, the provincial police chief, Abdul Haneen al-Amara, who took the job on Sept. 9, survived an assassination attempt on Sunday night. Gunmen opened fire on his convoy as it was moving through the northeastern part of the province, where both Sunni Arab and Shiite militias are active.
Eight bodies were found in Baghdad on Tuesday.
Ali Hamdani contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Basra, Diyala, Kirkuk, Kut, Mosul, Tikrit and Samarra.