BAGHDAD, (AP) – A parked car bomb struck a convoy of Iraqi police commandos and gunmen opened fire on police on a foot patrol in a mostly Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad on Saturday, police said.
The attacks came a day after gunmen stormed a senior Iraqi police officer’s home northeast of the capital.
Diplomatic tensions also rose, with the Iraqi Foreign Ministry summoning the Turkish charge d’affaires and calling for an immediate halt of cross-border shelling into northern Iraq, saying such actions “undermine confidence between the two nations and negatively affect their friendship.” The statement was the first government confirmation of the shelling.
Turkey has been building up its forces along the border with Iraq and scattered shelling has been reported while its leaders debate whether to stage a major incursion to pursue separatist Kurdish rebels who cross over from bases in Iraq to attack Turkish targets.
The car bombing, which occurred about 9 a.m. in Baghdad’s northeastern neighborhood of Shaab, killed one Interior Ministry commando and a pedestrian, while six commandos and a pedestrian were wounded, police said.
It came about 90 minutes after gunmen in a speeding car opened fire on police on a foot patrol, killing one officer and wounding another, a police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he could also become a target.
On Friday, dozens of gunmen swooped into the home of Col. Ali Dilayan al-Jorani on the outskirts of Baqouba, in Diyala province 35 miles northeast of the capital, according to officers at the provincial police center.
Al-Jorani was at work, but the heavily armed attackers killed his wife, two brothers and 11 guards and kidnapped three of his grown children, the police said, in a grisly example of the dangers facing Iraqi forces as they try to take over the country’s security so American forces can leave.
The provincial police officials, who also declined to be identified for fear they could be next, said the attackers arrived in “many cars” and abducted two sons and a daughter of al-Jorani, head of central Baqouba’s Balda police station.
Iraqi police are frequent targets of al-Qaeda-linked insurgents bent on ending cooperation between government security forces and U.S. troops in Baghdad and surrounding areas.
At least 751 Iraqi security personnel have been killed since a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown began on Feb 14. During the same length of time immediately preceding Feb. 14, at least 593 Iraqi security personnel were killed, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press. The actual number in both cases is likely higher as many killings go unreported or uncounted.
The U.S. military recently acknowledged that the rampant violence had forced it to divert some attention from training Iraqi troops, who the Americans hope will be ready to assume the fight when American forces pull back.
Diyala province, a hotbed of the Sunni insurgency, has become increasingly dangerous since the beginning of the Baghdad security operation nearly four months ago.
Militants have fled the capital to avoid capture and forced the U.S. military to dispatch about 3,000 more American forces to Diyala from already overtaxed reinforcements arriving in Baghdad.
But the attack on the police chief’s home was one of the boldest and bloodiest in months of violence. It also coincided with the shift in loyalty of some Sunni insurgent fighters, who have joined the fight against al-Qaeda.
A policeman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisal attacks, said al-Jorani is a Sunni. He said many officers from both Islamic sects have sent their families either outside the province or in some cases, outside the country, and are living in their offices for fear of al-Qaeda, which he said is feeling increased pressure as other insurgent groups turn against it in the area.
Tensions also rose on the outskirts of Diyala’s Shiite enclave of Khalis, where dozens of suspected insurgents were gathering and police called for U.S. and Iraqi army assistance, according to Maj. Gen. Ghanim al-Qureyshi, the head of the Diyala provincial police.
In all, at least 77 Iraqis were killed nationwide on Friday, most in devastating bombings to the north and south of the capital.
The deadliest of those occurred as worshippers were leaving Friday prayers at a Shiite mosque in Dakok, near the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, with a parked car exploding and killing at least 19 people, police Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir said.
About five minutes later, a suicide bomber was spotted driving toward the mosque but police in a nearby station opened fire on him and he exploded, Qadir said. At least 25 people were wounded in the twin attacks, most in the parked car bomb.
Murtada Saleh, a 62-year-old retiree, lives near the attacked Shiite mosque but said he quit going there to pray several months ago because he feared such an attack.
“I have a big family to feed and I do not want to be killed. I also have prevented my sons from going to the mosque,” he said, adding that the windows in his house were shattered in the blast. “We are a religious family, but one should be cautious.”