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07 Nov 2004 09:16
Twenty one policemen were shot and killed when gunmen stormed two police stations in neighbouring areas on Sunday in the restive Iraqi province of Al-Anbar, a police officer said.
The province is also home to the rebel-held cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, where expectations are mounting of an all-out assault by US and Iraqi troops to regain control of the flashpoints.
“A large number of attackers, estimated at about 200, ambushed the main police station in Haditha and another smaller one in Haqlaniya,” said the police officer from Haditha, a town 200km west of Baghdad.
“The attackers disarmed the police, gathered them together and then shot them dead,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity, about the raid in Haditha.
A similar massacre took place at dawn in Haqlaniya, a village 10km to the east, he said, adding that the combined death toll was 21.
Policemen found their massacred colleagues, with their hands tied behind their backs, while the gang made off with weapons and vehicles.
“They took everything,” the police officer said with a sigh at the Haditha station, where about 40 policeman are usually based, noting that about 15 vehicles had disappeared.
Most of the victims lived nearby and residents in Haditha were due to start burying their dead at 10am (7am GMT).
Seen as collaborating with the US-led military, Iraq’s fledgling security forces are a top target in an insurgency that has raged in the aftermath of last year’s invasion.
An apparently coordinated torrent of car bombs and clashes against police and local government targets in the city of Samarra on Saturday left at least 33 people dead.
The attacks further undermined efforts by the US-backed interim government to restore peace to the country in time for elections planned for January.
The police were at the eye of the storm in another attack barely two weeks earlier in the same area as Haditha, when a suicide car bomb exploded outside a police accademy in the nearby town of Baghdadi killing, 19 policemen.
Days earlier, 49 Iraqi army recruits were gunned down as they headed home in minibuses from western Iraq after completing a training course.
Their three civilian drivers were also killed in an attack that sparked nationwide outrage and suspicions that the attackers received inside help.
Iraqi officials admit that insurgents have likely infiltrated the ranks of the security forces, while some police and soldiers are prone to bribes to betray their colleagues.
“We have information that men [some members of the security forces] get $500 for carrying out one operation and that an additional bonus is paid if a policeman or national guard is killed in the attack,” Interior Minister Falah Naqib said last month after the slaughter of the army cadets. - Sapa-AFP
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