Insurgents Strike Across a Wide Swathe

  • Share
  • Read Later
Insurgent attacks that killed more than 80 people in Iraq campaign appear to have been tightly synchronized across hundreds of miles. The targets, mostly Iraqi police facilities, ranged from Mosul in the north, down through Baquba and out to the West in Ramadi — 60 miles from Baghdad — and Fallujah, 40 miles west of the capital.

At around 5.30 a.m., residents of Baqubah, about 35 miles north of Baghdad, began waking to the sound of explosions. A convoy of U.S. troops from the 1st Infantry Division had been ambushed by insurgents nearby, leaving two American soldiers dead, according to Maj. Debra Stewart,a spokeswoman for the Division which is headquartered nearby in Saddam Hussein's hometown, Tikrit. At the same time, insurgents laid siege to the home of Diyala province's police chief, and torched it.

At around 9 a.m., U.S. aircraft dropped four 500-pound laser-guided bombs on buildings that the 1st ID says had been turned into insurgent positions. "There were three anti-Iraqi strong points that they were firing from," Stewart told TIME two hours after the air strike. "We destroyed the buildings."

U.S. officials in Baghdad had expected trouble all morning. At about 11 a.m., they evacuated the city's convention center, a three-story building inside the fortified Green Zone where officials hold daily briefings. Inside the convention center, American soldiers charged with guarding the building — which also houses the U.S. and British consular offices —charged through the passage. One shouted: "Everyone needs to evacuate! There's a suspicious package!"

Less than an hour before the evacuation, a senior U.S. military official gathered western journalists who were in the building at the time, and warned them that there had been "chatter" about attacks on westerners in Baghdad during the days immediately before and after the hand-over.

At the moment the building was evacuated, TIME was mid-way through a meeting in the convention center with a U.S. Army civil affairs officer, Major Martha Boyd, who works on projects attached to Iraq's Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. Her telephone rang with an urgent call from a local official in Baqubah, telling her that a ministry employment office had been besieged by insurgents, who took control for several hours of the government's main building, known in the city as the Blue Dome. "They have taken it over," Boyd said.

The insurgents' synchronization occurred within each city, as well as across the country: in Mosul, seven car bombs exploded outside police stations, killing at least 56 people, according to the Ministry of Health. In Ramadi, two police stations were attacked, killing seven police officers and one Iraqi National Guard soldier.

By late afternoon, calm had been restored in most of the target cities. Maj. Stewart said the 1stID had regained control of the Blue Dome — although from Tikrit, Division commanders seemed unclear about whether all police stations were now in coalition hands.

From the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force's headquarters in Ramadi, Major Thomas V. "TV" Johnson said by late afternoon that Ramadi and Fallujah were "fairly quiet," dismissing reports from Arabic news channels that insurgents had overrun the cities as "wholly inaccurate."