Militants kill 5 Iraqi soldiers at Baghdad checkpoint, plant al-Qaida flag

By Sameer N. Yacoub, AP
Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Al-Qaida militants kill 5 Iraqi troops, plant flag

BAGHDAD — Suspected al-Qaida militants killed five Iraqi soldiers in a brazen dawn attack Tuesday at a western Baghdad checkpoint and planted the terror group’s black banner before fleeing the scene, officials said.

It was the second time in a week that al-Qaida’s flag has appeared at the scene of an attack. On Thursday, in Baghdad’s Sunni Azamiyah district — a former al-Qaida stronghold — suspected al-Qaida militants stormed a checkpoint, killed 16 members of the security forces and briefly planted their banner nearby before fleeing.

Such attacks raise concerns that insurgents are successfully taking advantage of the enduring political vacuum nearly five months after Iraq’s parliamentary elections failed to produce a clear winner. Politicians are still bickering over the formation of a new government, with the main hurdle being who should become the next prime minister.

Tuesday’s attackers arrived in three cars and used pistols fitted with silencers in the assault in the mainly Sunni Mansour district, police and hospital officials said. The assailants, according to the officials, then planted the al-Qaida banner on a pole next to the checkpoint.

An Interior Ministry official familiar with the incident said five gunmen first shot dead two soldiers who were on duty, then moved to a nearby spot where three soldiers were sleeping and shot them dead at close range. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

He said the attack took place at 5 a.m. Photographs obtained by The Associated Press showed scattered bed sheets and pools of blood on a patch of grass near the checkpoint.

Security forces sealed off the area and searched for the attackers, carrying out extensive car searches and identity checks on passengers as well as pedestrians in the area, according to the officials.

Also Tuesday, an Iraqi soldier and a policeman were killed and nine people were wounded in other attacks across Baghdad.

A roadside bomb targeting an army patrol in Baghdad’s Shiite district of Sadr City killed one soldier and wounded seven — four soldiers and three bystanders. In the capital’s eastern Ghadir district, a traffic policeman was killed when a bomb attached to his motorbike went off. A similar bomb attached to the car of a police major went off in Hurriyah neighborhood, seriously wounding him.

And in the nearby Ghazaliyah neighborhood, gunmen in a speeding car opened fire on a police checkpoint, wounding one policeman, police officials said. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Al-Qaida’s front group, the Islamic State of Iraq, claimed responsibility for the Azamiyah attack in a statement posted on a militant website on Tuesday. There was no immediate claim for the Mansour attack.

Violence has significantly dropped in Iraq since 2008 but attacks still occur daily, particularly in Baghdad, where al-Qaida appears determined to show it is far from a spent force despite the killing and capture of hundreds of its members and leaders by Iraqi and U.S. forces.

Incumbent Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has been struggling to hold on to his post, told state television late Monday that he was prepared to “suspend” his candidacy for a second, four-year term in office, but that doing so would not bring about a breakthrough.

Some of his Shiite allies have publicly called on al-Maliki to step aside, while loyal supporters in his State of Law coalition are sticking by his candidacy.

Al-Maliki’s comments came just hours after President Barack Obama promised again to remove all but 50,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the month, wrapping up the combat mission of the U.S. military in Iraq. The last American soldier is due to leave Iraq by the end of next year.

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