Iraqi police commander killed in triple suicide attack

Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 29, 2010; 5:41 PM

BAGHDAD - An Iraqi police commander who had worked tenaciously to root out al-Qaeda from the northern city of Mosul was killed, along with three other officers, in a pre-dawn suicide attack on a police compound in the city Wednesday.

Lt. Col. Shamel Ahmed Ugla, whom police identified by a different spelling and family name as Shamil Okla Ahmed al-Jabouri, was known for openly walking Mosul's streets despite narrowly surviving a half-dozen assassination attempts. In the two weeks since he had been promoted from commander of Mosul's western district of al-Borsa to the city's top police post, officers had carried out several attacks on al-Qaeda at his direction, capturing dozens of suspects and killing another.

Nearly 50 bombings, gun assaults and other attacks against police and civilians have occurred over the past 10 days, apparently culminating in Wednesday's deadly retaliation against Ugla, authorities said.

Multiple suicide bombers and gunmen carried out the attack, the most sophisticated in Mosul in months, said Col. Saad al-Hamdani. Two of the three bombers reached the interior of the police station, and the blasts that ensued brought down the building.

Hamdani said he feared that the attack demonstrated the depth and renewed determination of al-Qaeda in Mosul. "They have come here, they are targeting here, because they have been strangled in Baghdad. Every thing is quiet there because of the political agreement," he said, referring to the creation of a unity government this month that allowed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to begin a second term.

Mosul and the surrounding province of Nineveh are a microcosm of Iraq's most explosive and unresolved conflicts on the eve of the U.S. military's last scheduled year in Iraq. Kurdish and Sunni Arab leaders battle over a disputed border; provincial and central government officials wrestle for control; local Sunni-dominated police and federal Shiite-controlled army units communicate poorly and are distrusted by many residents; and insurgents try to capitalize with violence that pits one group against another.

Thousands of U.S. troops remain on the fault line, overseeing checkpoints manned by a combination of Kurdish and Arab authorities. Some senior U.S. military officials have suggested that NATO or other international peacekeepers may need to remain in the area after American troops depart as scheduled by the end of 2011.

In an interview with a Washington Post reporter during a daylong patrol in July, Ugla said that police had become the most frequent targets of Sunni insurgents but that because of shifting allegiances, it had become difficult to tell who was the biggest threat.

"They try to attack us every minute, but we are always chasing them," he said. "Mosul gave many sacrifices. It is tired now. It is sad."

Ugla was not always above the fray. He responded brusquely when the reporter asked him after a tour of the city why his officers had beaten a suspected al-Qaeda informant that day.

"If he was beaten, to hell with him," Ugla said. "Stop asking these questions."

"The judicial system takes the side of the terrorists," he added. "It's a revolving door. Some policeman's blood boils because he lost his cousin or brother or friend. He might hit [the detainee] in the face or with a stick, and the terrorist goes to the judge and says he was beaten."

With Ugla's death, said Abdul-Raheem al-Shemeri, head of the provincial security committee, Mosul has lost "a sword" that had sought to chase away al-Qaeda.

Correspondent Leila Fadel in New York and special correspondents Marwan Alanie in Mosul and Ali Qeis in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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