Al Qaeda fighters killed at least eight police in southern Baghdad on Thursday, raking them with machinegun fire from a stolen Iraqi army vehicle, police said.Separately, police said insurgents fired 10 mortar bombs at Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone just before dusk, in attacks coinciding with the US Thanksgiving holiday.
A Reuters witness said he saw what appeared to be a body hanging from a damaged minibus in the zone, which houses the US embassy and many government ministries. Police said there were casualties, but had no details.
The eruption of violence ran against the trend of a sharp drop in attacks in recent months.
Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters opened fire on a neighbourhood police patrol in the Hawr Rajab area of Baghdad, a mainly Sunni Arab area, approaching in at least one of two vehicles they had stolen after shooting at least two Iraqi soldiers.
An interior ministry official confirmed that eight “Awakening Council” police patrol members had been killed. He said three Iraqi soldiers were killed and another three were wounded, and that two Al Qaeda gunmen had also been killed.
The US military said in a statement that two Al Qaeda fighters were killed and two wounded when helicopters attacked the vehicle. It said a US F-16 warplane then dropped a 500-pound bomb on the vehicle.
Mortar and rocket attacks on the Green Zone were almost a daily occurrence earlier this year but have fallen off dramatically, along with overall declines in levels of violence in Baghdad and elsewhere.
The falls in attacks have been attributed to a “surge” of 30,000 extra US troops, which became fully operational in mid-June, and the growing use of neighbourhood police units. Mainly Sunni Arab tribal sheikhs have been organising young men into the local police units, known as concerned local citizens, to drive out Sunni Islamist Al Qaeda.
Police at Baghdad’s Yarmouk Hospital said two Iraqi army “humvee” vehicles had been seized at the start of the attack at Hawr Rajab. The police patrol did not challenge the occupants because they took them for soldiers.
The bodies of eight of the patrol and two soldiers were taken to the Yarmouk Hospital in western Baghdad, Iraqi police said. Another four were wounded. Reuters Television footage showed several coffins being loaded onto the back of a police truck to be taken to hospital. Another was tied to the top of a dilapidated car.
A young woman and two toddlers, one of them crying, sat on the ground next to one simple wooden coffin.
Separately, Iraqi soldiers supported by US forces killed 19 Al Qaeda fighters north of the city of Baqouba, Major-General Abdul-Karim Rubaie, the head of Iraqi military operations in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, told Reuters.
Al Qaeda fighters were killed in an area controlled by the Al Qaeda-linked group Islamic State in Iraq, he said. Two members of a neighbourhood police unit there were killed in the operation and another three were wounded.
The neighbourhood patrols, backed by the US military as part of a counterinsurgency strategy, were pioneered last year in western Anbar, once the most dangerous province, and are spreading through other areas.
Attacks on such units are common but Thursday’s bold assault was one of the biggest yet in Baghdad.