Iraqi police, tribal chiefs targeted

The Baltimore Sun

BAGHDAD -- Sunni Arab extremists have begun a systematic campaign to assassinate police chiefs, police officers, other Interior Ministry officials and tribal leaders throughout Iraq, staging at least 10 attacks in 48 hours.

Eight policemen have been killed, among them the police chief of Baqouba, 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 yesterday for the attack in Diyala, which killed at least 18 people Monday. The group has ties to al-Qaida in Iraq, a homegrown extremist group whose leadership has foreign ties, according to American intelligence officials.

The latest outbreak of violence follows closely on the concerted efforts of President Bush and Gen. David Petraeus to portray the buildup of U.S. forces this year as having brought more stability to Iraq. Iraqi officials said yesterday that the attacks might be 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 Petraeus and Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. "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."

Al-Sheikhly played down the recent violence, saying the extremist groups are seeking publicity to compensate for their inability to conduct major offensive operations, which have been sharply curtailed.

The car and truck bombs that devastated Baghdad for so long have been absent in recent weeks. But the attacks this week served as a reminder of the insurgency's persistence, particularly beyond Baghdad and its environs.

In addition to the attack Monday in Diyala, insurgents have struck in Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk, Fallujah, Kut and Samarra, primarily in mixed areas of Shiites and Sunni Arabs or in exclusively Sunni areas where there is fighting between Sunni tribes and extremist groups such as al-Qaida in Mesopotamia.

Individual attacks would hardly be notable, because a few roadside bombings and shootings are daily occurrences in Iraq, but the number of attacks singling out similar victims suggests a more concerted campaign.

The new assassination campaign was announced on an Islamist Web site Sept. 15, two days after the killing of Sheik Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, the Sunni leader of the tribal Awakening Council in Anbar province, which was leading the fight there against al-Qaida in Iraq.

In an audiotape, the militants announced that they would stage attacks to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and would focus their efforts on rival tribal figures and collaborators. Sunni militant groups have a history of using such high-profile killings to sow fear among residents and discourage people from working with the government.

That promise seemed to have been borne out in the Baqouba and Samarra attacks. In both cities, the targets were meetings where tribal figures and Iraqi officials were discussing efforts to defeat al-Qaida in Iraq.

Yesterday, in taking responsibility for the Baqouba bombing, Islamic State in Iraq said the attacks fulfilled its promise to administer "painful hits" to the Iraqi government during Ramadan, according to a translation made available by the SITE Institute, which tracks extremist Web sites.

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