Iraqi Police Battle Gunmen In Government Compound

By Bushra Juhi

Published January 15, 2012 12:45PM (EST)

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi security forces on Sunday were battling gunmen who blasted their way into a government compound in a one-time Sunni insurgent hotbed in the country's west, police officials said.

The standoff between Iraqi Shiite-dominated security forces and suspected Sunni insurgents in Anbar province's capital of Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, marks the first serious gunbattle for Iraqi forces against insurgents without American backup since the U.S. military withdrew last month.

Five gunmen wearing military uniforms and explosive-rigged vests stormed a compound in Ramadi Sunday morning, two police officials said. The compound houses Ramadi police headquarters and several federal security agencies, including an anti-terrorism police task force and a detention facility where terrorism suspects are held and interrogated during the investigation process.

The officials said at least one of the attackers detonated his explosives at the entrance to the compound, as four others shot their way in. Security forces have surrounded the building and are exchanging fire with the gunmen, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

There were no other reports of casualties.

Violence has soared in Iraq since the last U.S. troops left the country almost a month ago after nine years of war. Most of the latest attacks appear to be aimed at Iraq's majority Shiites, suggesting Sunni insurgents seeking to undermine the Shiite-dominated government are to blame.

More than 145 people have been killed in attacks since the start of the year.

On Saturday, a bomb tore through a procession of Shiite pilgrims heading toward the largely Sunni town of Zubair in southern Iraq, killing at least 53 people and wounding at least 130 other in the latest sign of a power struggle between rival Muslim sects.

Fears of more bloodshed have risen in recent weeks, with the U.S. no longer enjoying the leverage it once had to encourage the two sides to work together to rein in extremists. Saturday's blast happened on the last of the 40 days of Arbaeen, when hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims travel to the Iraqi city of Karbala and other holy sites.


Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin and Barbara Surk contributed to this report.

Bushra Juhi

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