Bold attack seeks to reassert Al Qaeda presence in Baghdad
16 security officials killed in daylight at checkpoint
BAGHDAD — Militants flew an Al Qaeda flag over a Baghdad neighborhood yesterday after killing 16 security officials and burning some of their bodies in a brazen afternoon attack that served as a grim reminder of continued insurgent strength in Iraq’s capital.
It was the bloodiest attack in a day that included the deaths of 23 Iraqi soldiers, police officers, and other security forces across the country who were targeted by shootings and roadside bombs.
The mayhem serves as a stark warning that insurgents are trying to make a comeback three months after their two top leaders were killed in an air strike on their safe house, and as the US military presence decreases day by day.
The complex attack began when militants struck a checkpoint in the largely Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah, once a stronghold of insurgents that in recent years has become more peaceful.
Then the militants set the checkpoint on fire, burning several of the soldiers’ bodies, according to an army officer who was on patrol in the neighborhood. Minutes later, attackers detonated three roadside bombs nearby.
Hospital, police, and military officials confirmed the death toll.
A large pool of blood and what appeared to be char marks could be seen on the ground near an Iraqi Army truck. It was not known how many people took part in the highly orchestrated attack, but all appeared to have escaped.
A day before the Azamiyah attack, Vice President Joe Biden predicted there would not be an extreme outbreak of sectarian violence in Iraq as all but 50,000 US forces leave the country at the end of August. He said the American troops left behind would be more than enough to help Iraqi forces maintain security.
“I can’t guarantee anything, but I’m willing to bet everything that there will be no such explosion,’’ Biden said on NBC’s “Today’’ show.
Still, the Obama administration is keeping a wary eye on Iraq’s security. White House officials said Biden is sending two of his top national security advisers to Baghdad this weekend to help push along Iraq’s stalled political process in a sign of impatience and concern that sectarian tensions could escalate as the American forces withdraw.
It has been more than four months since Iraq’s March 7 election, with little indication that a government can be formed before the Muslim holiday of Ramadan begins in mid-August and brings a halt to business in much of the Middle East.
As politicians bicker, Iraqis point to such violent attacks as yesterday’s as a clear indication that terror groups are trying to use the instability to regroup.
“Al Qaeda is trying their best to return to Iraq or to Azamiyah because they have no existence here now,’’ said a member of the Azamiyah provincial council, Haitham al-Azami.