Attack on Iraqi police station shatters calm in border town
May 21, 2006
HUSAYBAH, Iraq — A suicide bomber wearing a vest strapped with explosives attacked a newly established police station in this Syrian border town Saturday, killing five Iraqi police officers and shattering the relative calm the city has sustained for more than six months.
Blood, body parts and a cloud of white smoke were seen outside the police compound that opened less than one month ago, when the locally hired police force began conducting joint patrols with the Marines stationed here, Marines said.
It was the first major attack on the fledgling police force following a massive sweep last November that largely cleared out the former insurgent stronghold. Marines had worked to set up the police force.
“We expected them to conduct some sort of attack on the police station,” said 2nd Lt. Ben Cunningham, a platoon commander here for the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. “Obviously the insurgents don’t want to see a successful police station here.”
Attacks in the border city of roughly 50,000 have become rare. Since the large-scale operation six months ago, the Marines have spread out into several small patrol bases and routinely patrol the streets without incident.
After the explosion about 9 a.m., gunfire crackled from the neighborhood surrounding the police station, but it was unclear whether that stemmed from other insurgents staging a broader attack or police unleashing defensive fire, Marines said.
Several off-duty Iraqi police in civilian clothing rushed to the scene of the bombing and joined their uniformed colleagues in the shooting, making it difficult for Marines trying to discern who — if anyone — was ambushing the station.
“It was definitely a positive thing to see the courage they had, but it makes it hard for us to know who is who,” said Cpl. Matthew Hartman, a 25-year-old from Arizona who was among the troops patrolling Saturday morning.
Ten Iraqis were injured in the attack and several received medical treatment from U.S. troops.
The Marines and Iraqi police detained three men shortly after the assault, Marines said.
The new police district headquarters in Husaybah is one of several to be set up and opened in recent weeks.
The Marines here have successfully helped local tribal leaders agree on a police chief and recruit several hundred police officers from the local area. A new police station in the nearby village of Obeidi opened last week.
But the Iraqi Ministry of Interior office in Ramadi has offered little support for the effort. The police have no vehicles and have yet to receive any pay.
Maj. Robert Marshall, a Denver-area attorney and Marine reservist who heads the police training team here, said he went to Ramadi several weeks ago to obtain paychecks for the police, but the key government official there failed to show up to work.
Marshall hopes the police will be patient as they try to resolve the Iraqis’ bureaucratic problems.
“I think our guys would be willing to go three or four months without getting paid just to keep their home safe,” Marshall said.
For the troops based here, the suicide attack was particularly troubling because they run a civil military operations center from a small base in the city center and welcome Iraqis into their base every day.
“You want this to be a place where people can walk up and talk about their problems or concerns, but along with that comes a lot of security concerns,” Cunningham said. “It’s unsettling to see a suicide attack.”