Sunday, May 08, 2011

17 Die in Battle Inside Iraqi Government Compound

17 die in battle inside Iraqi government compound

McClatchy Newspapers

BAGHDAD -- BAGHDAD-Six policemen, including three high-ranking officers, and 11 prisoners were killed in a six-hour gun battle inside the heavily fortified compound of the Interior Ministry in Baghdad Saturday evening, police said Sunday.

Police said the detainees had all confessed to membership in the Islamic State of Iraqi, the Iraqi extremist group linked to al-Qaida, and to a number of assaults, including the attack on Lady of Salvation Church in October 2010, in which more than 50 people were killed.

Appearing before reporters Sunday, four ministry officials gave a confusing and incomplete account of the incident and then left after taking only three questions.

The incident began at 10 p.m. Saturday, the officials said.

"While one of the employees was trying to go to the W.C. (toilet), one of the insurgents was able to grab his pistol and started shooting," said Maj. Gen. Dheya Hussein, general director of the anti-terrorism directorate.

He said Brig. Gen. Muyad al-Salih, the director general of investigations in Baghdad's Karrada district, ran in the direction of the battle and was killed by one of the insurgents. Three prisoners then seized a government vehicle and tried to break out of the compound but were shot to death by a guard in a security tower.

Neither Hussein nor his colleagues could explain the security lapse that allowed the insurgents to obtain weapons to fight police for six hours.

One official said the battle occurred in the counterterrorism offices. It ended only when a SWAT team arrived and surrounded the insurgents on one floor of the building. After failing to persuade the insurgents to surrender, the SWAT team killed them.

Gen. Qasim al-Mosawi, spokesman for Baghdad Operations, said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered an investigation.

The incident occurred a little more than two months into a wave of assassinations of high-ranking security officers and civil officials. The combination of setbacks is likely to raise questions about the capability of the Iraqi security forces, which are due to take over all internal security when U.S. forces leave at year-end.

(Hammoudi is a special correspondent. Roy Gutman contributed to this report.)

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