Baghdad,(AFP)- Dozens of gunmen, some dressed in army uniforms, killed 21 policemen in a wave of coordinated attacks on checkpoints and officers’ homes across the western Iraqi city of Haditha on Monday, police said.
The assault began at 2:00 am (2300 GMT on Sunday) when insurgents dressed in military uniforms and riding stolen army vehicles attacked two checkpoints at the same time in the east and west of Haditha, an officer said.
“They then entered the city and were distributed throughout Haditha, where other gunmen were waiting for them in civilian cars,” said police Lieutenant Colonel Owaid Khalaf, who said he was involved in some of Monday’s firefights.
“More than 50 gunmen altogether started attacking checkpoints all over the city, and in total, 21 policemen were killed. One gunman was also killed.”
Five policemen were wounded in the concerted attacks, according to Khatab Omar, an official at Haditha hospital. Omar confirmed the death toll.
Khalaf said the attackers also targeted two senior police officers’ homes — Colonel Mohammed Shauffeur and Captain Khaled Mohammed Sayil. They killed three bodyguards at each of the officer’s houses, and kidnapped both.
Shauffeur’s body was found in a Haditha marketplace and Sayil was discovered in an alleyway, blindfolded with fatal gunshots to the head.
“Right now, police, army and forces from the rest of Anbar are searching the entire city, and a curfew has been imposed,” Khalaf said, referring to the province where Haditha lies.
The attack in Haditha, 210 kilometres (130 miles) northeast of Baghdad, is the first major instance of violence in the town since a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a bank, killing nine people, including three police, and wounding eight others on March 3, 2011.
Haditha is in western Sunni Arab Anbar province. It was one of several towns along the Euphrates valley that became Al-Qaeda strongholds after the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
However, in 2006, local Sunni tribes sided with the US military and unrest dwindled in Anbar as rebel fighters were ejected from the region.
Violence across the country is down from its peaks in 2006 and 2007, but attacks remain common. A total of 150 Iraqis were killed in February, according to official figures.