Al-Qaeda suspected in Iraq police attack, kill 27

Published Monday, March 5, 2012

Gunmen disguised as police raided checkpoints and homes in western Iraq on Monday, killing at least 27 members of the security forces, police said, in an attack the authorities said bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda.

Mohammed Fathi, spokesman for the governor of Anbar province, said the attack bore the "fingerprints of al-Qaeda."

The brazen attacks in what was once Iraq's most violent province raises concern that Iraq's branch of al-Qaeda may regain a foothold in Anbar after the withdrawal of US troops in December.

The police source, who had been ferrying victims to the hospital morgue, said gunmen dressed in uniforms of the security forces had driven from checkpoint to checkpoint slaughtering security forces in Haditha, a town 190km northwest of Baghdad.

"The gunmen used security vehicles and from 2:00am until 3:30am they carried out attacks on checkpoints in central Haditha and the nearby town of Barwana," the police source, who did not give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media, told Reuters in Fallujah.

Fathi, the governor's spokesman, said the attackers arrived at checkpoints with fake arrest warrants, confiscated the mobile phones of the police guards, and executed them.

The 27 dead included a lieutenant colonel and a captain who were dragged out of their homes in Haditha and killed, the police source said. A curfew was imposed on the town and its exits were sealed off.

One gunman was killed in the attacks, the source said. Three policemen survived the attacks with wounds and were being treated at Haditha hospital.

A medical source at Hadita hospital confirmed that it had received 27 bodies of slain victims and was treating three wounded.

Fathi said the attackers may have intended to derail a summit of Arab leaders set for later this month. Iraq is due to host a summit of the Arab League, its first since the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, and its leaders have been at pains to say security is under control.

Al-Qaeda opposes the Baghdad government and say they will continue to fight despite the withdrawal of US forces last year.

A recent upsurge in insurgent attacks targeting Shia as well as Sunnis has been seen as an attempt by al-Qaeda to exploit political instability in Iraq and sow sectarian violence.

They continue to focus their attacks against Iraqi security forces. Coordinated early morning attacks that mainly targeted police in Shia areas killed at least 60 people across the country on February 23.

In Anbar in January, 10 people were killed when gunmen wearing explosive belts stormed a police building in the provincial capital Ramadi.

Once an al-Qaeda stronghold and Iraq's most violent province in 2004-06, Anbar was subdued in 2006-07 when tribal leaders and former insurgents turned against the fighters.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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