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Gunmen in military uniforms kill 25 police in Haditha

Police lieutenant in remote Iraqi city says central government needs to do more to keep the peace in a place with a troubled past.

BAGHDAD // Gunmen disguised in military-style uniforms killed at least 25 police yesterday in western Iraq, officials said.

The militants, who hoisted an Al Qaeda flag, demonstrated to the residents of Haditha, a desert city about 105 kilometres from the Syrian border, how isolated they are from the central government's protection.

The violence began with an attack on a suburban checkpoint about 2am and continued as the militants moved through the city and attacked other checkpoints, raising the Al Qaeda flag before disappearing into the desert half an hour later.

"We consider this attack as a serious security breach and we believe that Al Qaeda or groups linked to it are behind this," said Mohammed Fathi, spokesman for the governor of Iraq's western Anbar province where Haditha is located.

Iraqi officials described a systematic plot to kill police in Haditha.

The gang's convoy consisted of 13 cars, which were painted to look as if they belonged to the interior ministry.

"Al Qaeda is responsible for this," Major Tareq Sayeh Hardan, a police spokesman in Haditha, told the BBC, adding Al Qaeda literature had been found in one of the attackers' vehicle

The gang had false arrest warrants for 15 police officials in Haditha. As their convoy moved through the city, they were stopped at another checkpoint near the city's main market.

A deadly gun battle broke out, with the gang raising the black flag of Al Qaeda in a show of defiance.

Most of the gang escaped, fleeing north into a desert area in bordering Ninevah province known as Jazeera, according to a police lieutenant in Haditha.

"Security was improving until 2009 but since then we have seen unserious cooperation from central government to support that improvement," Faisal Al Issawi. a member of the security commission on the Anbar Provincial Council, said yesterday.

"Terrorists attack and hit anywhere they wish and Al Qaeda has been able to break security forces lines. I believe now that we have a serious security crisis in Anbar that we must find a creative solution to the problem, otherwise Al Qaeda gunmen will attack without fears."

Police at the scene said three of the attackers were killed but the rest escaped. Mr Fathi said only one insurgent's body has been identified.

Attacks across Iraq have increased since US forces pulled out in December and the country is gripped by political turmoil.

Sheikh Hamdan Al Sheik Hamdan Al Jbouri from Baghdadi district in Anbar said that a security delegation would be sent to discuss the matter with Baghdad and that the Arab tribes in the area "have received actual invitations from Al Qaeda to stand and support them and their elements in west Iraq and Syria".

Haditha is a former Sunni insurgent stronghold of about 85,000 people. For many Iraqis, the city is a symbol of some of the worst atrocities during the war.

The mayor of Haditha and his son were executed in July 2003. The next year, after US forces pulled back, insurgents executed dozens of local policemen in a football stadium. US troops returned to Haditha in force in 2005, but at least 20 marines and an interpreter were killed in separate attacks.

But it was a November 2005 bombing that touched off an attack that still has people in Haditha seething.

A marine convoy hit a roadside bomb in Haditha that day, killing three US troops. Incensed, the surviving marines shot five men by a car at the scene and stormed several nearby houses, where they cleared rooms with grenades and gunfire. Twenty-four Iraqis were killed, including unarmed women and children.

nlatif@thenational.ae

Updated: March 6, 2012 04:00 AM

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