Dozens of anti-American insurgents stormed Iraqi security compounds in the volatile town of Falluja on Saturday in a bold attack that left at least 22 people dead and freed a number of prisoners.
Falluja police chief Aboud al-Dulaimi said about 70 guerrillas firing rockets, mortars and machineguns launched the closely coordinated attack on a police headquarters as well as on a compound for the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) and the mayor’s office.
Police and hospital officials said 14 policemen, four insurgents and four civilians were killed in the attack, the latest in a series of assaults on Iraqi security forces seen by the insurgents as supporting the U.S. occupation.
At least 35 others were wounded in the attack.
An Iraqi police officer said the guerrillas outgunned the policemen at the station. A government building situated several hundred meters (yards) away was assaulted at the same time.
“Unknown men fired mortars, explosives and light machineguns from four directions. Their weapons were more powerful than our Kalashnikovs,” said police officer Earazan Abu Issa, who was outside the police station when it was attacked.
The attack signaled a growing boldness on the part of insurgents fighting U.S.-led forces and Iraqis they regard as supporting the occupiers.
On Thursday, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, General John Abizaid, narrowly escaped an assault on his convoy at the attacked ICDC compound in Falluja, located some 50 km (32 miles) west of Baghdad in what is known as the “Sunni Triangle” center of resistance to U.S. forces.
U.S. planes circled overhead and dropped heat balloons to divert heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles, witnesses said.
Guerrillas have killed more than 600 security and police forces since April in an attempt to undermine U.S. efforts to prepare Iraqis to take over security of the country.
The latest violence in Falluja came during one of the bloodiest weeks since U.S.-led forces toppled former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein on April 9.
Two suicide bombs have killed at least 100 Iraqis. Guerrilla ambushes have also claimed the lives of three U.S. soldiers.
Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters are trying to discourage Iraqis from supporting occupation forces but many keep signing up for the police and new army to earn a living.
But U.S. troops remain a primary target in a guerrilla war that could have broad political implications for President Bush as he faces presidential elections in November.
A U.S. military policeman was killed in a Baghdad suburb on Thursday night, the 375th American soldier to die in combat since the United States and its allies invaded Iraq in March.
While the violence continues almost a year after U.S.-led invasion, diplomatic efforts are under way to forge a stable post-occupation political order.
The United States intends to hand over sovereignty to a transitional Iraqi administration by the beginning of July.
A U.N. envoy sent to Iraq to see if early elections were feasible said on Friday credibility was more important than timing, after one of his aides ruled out holding polls before Washington hands back power in June.
The United Nations is trying to resolve a dispute between Iraq’s majority Shi’ites, who want elections before the transfer, and Washington which says there is not enough time to organize them.