Deadly Attacks Continue Cycle of Violence in Samarra

By Edmund Sanders

Los Angeles Times

5:21 PM PST, December 8, 2004

BAGHDAD -- Two months after U.S. forces declared that they had pacified Samarra, the restive city again erupted in violence with a string of attacks Wednesday that killed at least four Iraqis, damaged a U.S. military convoy and caused the local police chief to announce his resignation.

The strikes followed a month of car bombs, ambushes and bloodshed in the Iraqi city that shook residents, shuttered businesses and disrupted voter registration efforts.

In announcing his resignation over a mosque loudspeaker, Maj. Gen. Talib Shamil Samarriee said insurgents had attacked his home and attempted to kidnap his son at school, where teachers hid the boy to save him. Earlier in the day, gunmen attacked the chief's car.

"I came according to the wish of the sons of the city in order to serve this city and to present any assistance I can," the police commander said. "But (after) what has happened to me within these three days, especially today, when my house and family were attacked and terrified, I decided to quit everything. I have no relationship with any governmental office."

U.S. military officials said Wednesday evening that they had contacted the police chief and he was still on the job. It was not immediately clear whether Samarriee had changed his mind.

The confusion followed a difficult day for Iraqi security forces in Samarra, about 65 miles north of Baghdad. Insurgents armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades stormed two police stations. At one, they killed an Iraqi police officer and a child at a nearby school, witnesses said. At the second, militants chased officers away and set off explosives.

U.S. and Iraqi forces eventually secured both stations.

Meanwhile, a suicide car bomber attacked two U.S. Bradley fighting vehicles driving just outside the city and gunmen fired at a U.S. checkpoint. No troops were hurt, but two Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. forces in the crossfire, military officials said. One of the Bradleys was damaged by the car bomb.

The assault on Samarra in early October by 5,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops was touted as a model for defeating Iraq's insurgency. The recent turnaround underscores the long-term challenges still faced by U.S. military leaders, who are finding that as they squeeze militants in one city, they are popping up in another.

The turmoil in Samarra has grown over the last month as U.S. and Iraqi security forces have diverted their attention toward retaking Fallujah, another hotspot dominated by Sunni Muslims.

The U.S. military downplayed the insurgent attacks and said that police training and recruitment in Samarra remained on track.

"Currently Task Force 1-26, along with the local government of Samarra, has control of the city," said Maj. Jeffrey Church, executive officer of the Army's 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, which oversees about 1,000 U.S. soldiers in the area.

When U.S. troops reduced their presence in Samarra in October, the chief question was whether Iraqi security forces would be able to keep the peace. At the time, nearly 1,200 Iraqi army and national guard members were stationed in the city and the governor pledged to send 1,500 Iraqi police officers from other parts of the country until local police could be trained.

But many of those out-of-town police officers have since left the city, particularly after attacks increased, residents and local police officers said.

"We are exposed to continuous threats by gunmen," said one Samarra police officer, who requested anonymity for fear of being targeted. "The insurgents have better weapons."

There also are questions about whether the police force has been infiltrated by insurgents. After militants raided a Samarra police station last week and escaped with equipment and cars, U.S. troops reportedly went to the station the next day and arrested several people.

For residents, life in Samarra has become increasingly tense. Cars are banned from the roads after 5 p.m., and a 9 p.m. curfew remains in effect. On Wednesday, sniper fire between U.S. troops and insurgents kept many residents indoors.

A Times special correspondent in Samarra contributed to this report.