BAGHDAD - Iraqi security forces battled gunmen who detonated a car bomb before blasting their way into a government compound and killing seven policemen in a one-time Sunni insurgent hotbed yesterday, police and local government officials said.
The three-hour standoff between Shi’ite-dominated security forces and suspected Sunni insurgents in the Anbar Province capital of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, marked the first serious gun battle for Iraqi forces against insurgents without American backup since the US military completed its withdrawal last month.
Violence has surged since American troops left, and Iraq was plunged into a political crisis after Shi’ite-dominated government charged Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi with running death squads, issuing an arrest warrant against him just as the last US soldiers crossed into neighboring Kuwait.
A court in Baghdad ruled yesterday that Hashemi must stand trial on terror charges in Baghdad, rejecting his request to be tried in the ethnically mixed city in Kirkuk.
He has fled to the autonomous Kurdish region, out of reach of Baghdad officials.
Hashemi’s Iraqiya party has boycotted Parliament and Cabinet sessions since last month to protest what it sees as efforts by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, to consolidate power, particularly over security forces.
The sectarian crisis in the government and the rise in attacks, such as a bombing Saturday that killed more than 50 pilgrims during a Shi’ite procession and yesterday’s assault on the government buildings, has raised concerns Iraq could return to sectarian bloodshed.
Yesterday, five gunmen in military uniforms and explosive-rigged vests stormed a compound in Ramadi, two police officials said.
The compound houses Ramadi police headquarters and several federal security agencies, including an antiterrorism police task force and a detention facility where terrorism suspects are interrogated.