RAMADI, Iraq — A wave of attacks and a three-hour siege of a police compound in west Iraq left seven policemen dead Sunday, raising doubts about the security forces’ capabilities a month after US troops left.
The coordinated blasts and shootings come with the country mired in a festering political row, and deal a blow to US and Iraqi officials’ assertion that local forces are able to maintain internal security.
Sunday’s violence in mostly Sunni Ramadi came a day after a suicide attacker targeting Shiites killed 53 people on the outskirts of the southern city of Basra, the latest in a series of attacks that have killed nearly 200 in less than one month.
In Ramadi, two initial car bombs exploded at around 11:30 am (0830 GMT) near Dawlah Kabir Mosque in the centre of the city, before a third car bomb went off in the same area, two police officers said on condition of anonymity.
A short time later, a fourth car bomb detonated near a police compound in Ramadi, followed quickly thereafter by two suicide bombers blowing themselves up inside.
Six gunmen stormed the compound, which houses the investigations and intelligence directorate and a building under construction that will be the new office of the mayor of Ramadi, and were holed up in the latter facility until around 3:00 pm (1200 GMT), according to police and medical officials.
“The six terrorists were killed inside the building where they were hiding, and the situation is now under the control of the police,” said Anbar police chief Major General Hadi Arzaij.
The attacks on the police compound left seven policemen dead and 16 wounded, while the initial three car bombs in central Ramadi wounded three civilians, according to a medic at Ramadi General Hospital.
Separate bombings in the refinery town of Baiji and the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, both north of Baghdad, left 13 people wounded, including three police.
The assault in Ramadi was reminiscent of a siege three months ago at a police station in the nearby town of Al-Baghdadi, also in Anbar province.
At the time, the local police chief and four others were killed when gunmen disguised in police uniforms set off explosions, clearing the way for them to overrun the building.
Anbar was a key Sunni insurgent base in the years after the US-led invasion of 2003, but after 2006 local tribes sided with the American military against Al-Qaeda and day-to-day violence has dropped dramatically.
However the province, and particularly its capital Ramadi, has been the target of frequent attacks in previous years.
In June 2011, at least three explosions near provincial government offices in Ramadi killed 10 people and wounded 15 others.
And back in January, a suicide bomber blew up an explosives-packed car carrying Anbar governor Qassim Mohammed Abid, but he was unhurt.
Provincial government offices were also targeted by attackers three times in 2010, and, on December 30, 2009, Abid lost his left hand in a suicide attack that killed 23 people and wounded 30.
US troops completed their withdrawal from Iraq on December 18, leaving behind a security force that officials said was able to maintain internal security but not protect the country’s borders, air space or maritime territory.
Insurgents have since carried out multiple mass-casualty attacks.
On December 22, a wave of violence across Baghdad and restive Diyala province killed 67, while bombings targeting Shiites in the capital and southern Iraq left 70 dead on January 5.
Saturday’s suicide attack near Basra killed 53.
The unrest also comes amid a political standoff in Iraq pitting the Shiite-led government against the main Sunni-backed political bloc, stoking sectarian tensions.
Authorities have charged Sunni Arab Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi with running a death squad, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, has called for his Sunni deputy Saleh al-Mutlak to be sacked.
The United States and United Nations have urged calm and called for dialogue, but oft-mooted talks involving Iraq’s main political leaders have yet to take place.