BAGHDAD (AP) – Insurgents attacked several U.S. bases and government offices with mortars yesterday before dispersing in the capital of western Iraq’s Anbar province, residents and police said.
Iraq’s interior minister yesterday also fired his top official for human rights in connection with a torture investigation.
Gunmen, meanwhile, attacked the six-vehicle convoy of a Saad al-Obeidi, an adviser to Iraq’s defense minister, seriously wounding him along with two of his bodyguards in the predominantly Sunni Arab Yarmouk neighborhood of Baghdad, police said.
The attacks in Ramadi occurred as local tribal leaders and U.S. military officials were to hold their second meeting in a week at the governor’s office in the city center. The insurgents apparently tried to shell the building, but reporters inside said there was no damage or injuries.
Police Lt. Mohammed al-Obaidi said at least four mortar rounds fell near the U.S. base on the eastern edge of the city, but that there were no reports of casualties.
An AP Television News video showed the insurgents walking down a shuttered market street and a residential neighborhood, as well as firing four mortar rounds. The masked men, however, looked relaxed and did not engage in any battles, and no U.S. bases or government buildings were shown.
Residents said that within minutes, scores of masked gunmen, believed to be members of Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq group, ran into the city’s streets but dispersed after launching attacks with mortars in what U.S. officers said may have been little more than a propaganda stunt.
The U.S. military reported that only one rocket-propelled grenade was fired at an observation post and there were no injuries of significant damage. Life in Ramadi quickly returned to normal after the shooting.
The insurgents did leave behind posters and graffiti saying they were members of al-Qaida in Iraq and claiming responsibility for shooting down a U.S. drone. There were no reports of any U.S. drones being shot down, though.
Ramadi is the provincial capital of Anbar province, a Sunni stronghold, where clashes between insurgents and U.S. and Iraqi troops have left hundreds of people dead in the past two years.
U.S. and Iraqi troops launched a joint operation near Ramadi on Wednesday, sweeping through an area used to rig car bombs.
About 500 Iraqi troops joined 2,000 U.S. Marines, soldiers and sailors in a move to clear insurgents from an area on the eastern side of the Euphrates River near Hit, 85 miles west of Baghdad, the U.S. command said.
The offensive came as President Bush said he hopes to shift more of the military burden onto the Iraqis as part of a strategy to draw down American forces.
In a statement, the military said the Hai Al Becker region “is suspected to be an al-Qaida in Iraq safe area and base of operations for the manufacture of vehicle car bombs, roadside bombs.” It described the area as a transit point for foreign fighters and Iraqi insurgents infiltrating from Syria into Iraq.