Gunmen attack checkpoint in Baghdad, briefly raise flag of al-Qaeda in Iraq
BAGHDAD -- Gunmen launched a rare, coordinated attack on Iraqi soldiers Thursday in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood of the capital and briefly erected the flag of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq near a smoldering army checkpoint.
The attack and the hours-long gun battle it triggered, which left at least six soldiers dead, were reminiscent of the clashes that raged in Baghdad at the height of sectarian warfare in 2007.
Earlier in the day, a suicide bomber driving a minivan slammed into the entrance of an Iraqi army base in northern Iraq, killing at least four soldiers, Iraqi officials said. Meanwhile, two roadside bombings near the western city of Fallujah killed one soldier and wounded eight.
The bloodshed suggested that the Sunni insurgent group remains capable of launching high-profile attacks and appears intent on regaining its foothold in areas it once controlled.
In the Baghdad attack, gunmen armed with pistols with silencers approached an army checkpoint inside the barricaded neighborhood of Adhamiyah and fatally shot four soldiers, witnesses and Iraqi officials said.
When soldiers and police rushed to the site to investigate, four bombs that had been planted previously ripped through the area, killing and wounding several first responders. Officials and witnesses gave conflicting death tolls that ranged from two to 12.
Store owner Abu Jasem said he saw masked gunmen armed with rocket-propelled grenades roaming the streets after the explosions. "We saw the pickup trucks of the police burning," he said.
The attack occurred a day after a new Iraqi army brigade was deployed to Adhamiyah, residents said.
Abu Jasem said Iraqi soldiers took scores of young men into custody and imposed a curfew in the area. "People are now afraid of the soldiers," he said.
An Iraqi army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qasim Atta, said on television that security forces had the situation under control. "Now there are tight security measures in Adhamiyah," he said. "I urge the people of Adhamiyah to cooperate with the security forces."
Thursday's attack also came three days after insurgents targeted the heavily guarded compound of al-Arabiya television in Baghdad.
The Islamic State of Iraq, the front group of al-Qaeda in Iraq, asserted responsibility for that attack and warned that it would target other news organizations that the group deems part of the "war on Allah and His Messenger," according to a translation of the claim provided by SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks insurgent Web sites.
Hussein is a special correspondent.