Militants Attack U.S. Base in Iraq


New York Times

February 20, 2007

BAGHDAD, Feb. 20 —In a coordinated assault on an American combat outpost north of Baghdad, suicide bombers drove three cars laden with explosives into the base, killing two American soldiers and wounding at least 17 more, according to witnesses and the American military.

The brazen and highly unusual attack, which was followed by fierce gun battles and a daring evacuation of the wounded Americans by helicopter, came on a day of violence across the country that left more than 40 people dead in shootings, suicide bombings, mortar attacks and roadside explosions.

The violence was directed at civilians, Americans and the Iraqi security forces.

Many of the attacks north of Baghdad were conducted by Sunni militants, possibly seeking a firmer hold on havens outside of Baghdad as American and Iraqi troops flood the streets here in an attempt to stem the bloodshed, according to American and Iraqi military officials.

A family of thirteen was slaughtered on the road leading Fallujah, 12 miles northwest of Baghdad, because they belonged to a tribe known to oppose the actions of Al Qaeda in Iraq, according to witnesses. The family, including an elderly woman and two small boys, was dragged out of an Akia minibus, lined up in the middle of the road, and shot. The executions took place in full view of others on the road, where traffic was stopped, witnesses said.

The dead lay on the highway for hours because people were afraid they would be ambushed if they collected the bodies, witnesses said.

The assault on the American base, located in the heart of a town called Tarmyia, was unusual because militants have largely avoided attacking heavily fortified American positions directly. Instead, over the past year, they have generally fired mortar rounds from a distance, or used snipers to wait for targets of opportunity, or planted improvised explosive devices on roads frequented by soldiers.

The posts of the Iraqi army and police, however, have frequently come under direct assault, especially in areas where Sunni militants have been strong.

With American troops now moving into similarly small combat outposts in Baghdad nieghborhoods for the first time since the early months after the invasion, the attack today in Tarmyia underscored the risks they face.

Americans had only occupied the outpost in Tarmyia for three months, residents said. They took over control after the collapse of the local police force, following a campaign of intimidation by Al Qaeda in Iraq. Tarmyia residents interviewed about today’s events, who spoke only on condition that they not be named, would not go into detail about Al Qaeda’s tactics, but in other Sunni cities north of Baghdad, the group has been brutal, using public killings to ensure that the civilians do not challenge them or work with the Americans.

An American military official confirmed that there has been no Iraqi police presence in Tarmyia, a city of 25,000, since December.

Before the Iraqi police there collapsed, Americans had only been an occasional presence in the town, sending soldiers to conduct patrols with the Iraqis from a nearby base.

The American outpost, located in the abandoned police headquarters in center of the town, was fortified by large blast walls. Typically, the Americans keep one company of about 100 soldiers at such outposts.

The suicide bombers who attacked today timed their assault to inflict maximum damage, witnesses said. Shortly before dawn, two suicide bombers drove into the outer perimeter of the station and detonated them. Then, as American soldiers tried to assess the damage, a third bomber drove his car up to where the Americans had gathered and set it off.

There was a heavy exchange of gunfire after the explosions. As the firefight raged, at least four American helicopters swept into the city to evacuate wounded soldiers.

The American military, in a statement, would confirm only that the base was attacked, that a car bomb was involved and that two soldiers were killed and another 17 wounded.

By nightfall, American forces had sealed off all routes in and out of the town, leaving residents worried that they would be cut off from basic supplies.

“It was not typical,” said an American military officer who requested anonymity because there is an active investigation into the assault.

The accounts of witnesses, some of whom live next door to the outpost, could not be independently verified.

Separately, militants took aim at Iraqis they deemed to be working against their cause. The family that was executed on the road to Falluja was part of the Albu Farag tribe, which has publicly opposed Al Qaeda in Iraq and other militant groups. The tribe joined with the Anbar Salvation Council in order to undermine the militants.

The head of that council, Abdul Satar Abu Risha, came under attack today as well. His home in Ramadi was attacked by a suicide car bomber; he survived, but five of his guards were killed.

Another car bomb in Ramadi killed five more people dead. Its apparent target, Major Ammir Nayef of the Iraqi Army, survived.

Near Kirkuk, three Iraqi police officers were killed and four more were wounded when gunmen attacked their patrol on the highway leading to the city, according to a local police commander.