Insurgents Step Up Attacks

An unidentified masked man aims a rocket propelled grenade in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Khadra during a firefight between insurgents and Iraqi police, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2005.
Dozens of insurgents wearing black uniforms and masks launched their boldest assault in Baghdad in weeks, attacking police Wednesday with multiple car bombs and small arms fire. Up to 13 people died as Iraqi politicians struggled to end a stalemate over a draft constitution.

Iraq's president appealed to faction leaders to win Sunni Arab approval for the charter so parliament send it to the public in an Oct. 15 referendum. But Sunni clerics condemned the document as too secular and a threat to national unity.

Up to 43 people were wounded in the brazen daylight attack, which began about 3:15 p.m. with three car bombs — two of them piloted by suicide drivers — blasting police patrols in a Sunni neighborhood of western Baghdad, police said.

Following the explosions, dozens of gunmen attacked with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, using what the U.S. military refers to as "swarm tactics" — an innovation by an insurgent force that U.S. officials acknowledge is becoming a more sophisticated.

U.S. soldiers came under small arms fire but suffered no casualties as they rushed to help the Iraqi police, the U.S. military said. Two U.S. Apache attack helicopters circled overhead during the battle that lasted more than an hour.

Officials gave varying casualty figures. Police Col. Hussein Jaddou said 13 were killed and 43 wounded, including three policemen, two suicide drivers and a gunman. Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said seven insurgents were killed but gave no overall figure.

In other developments:

  • The Pentagon announced it has ordered 1,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq to provide security in advance of two upcoming votes. Two infantry battalions from the 82nd Airborne Division will deploy to Iraq before the scheduled Oct. 15 referendum on the proposed constitution, and remain through the December national elections, officials said.
  • Deputy justice minister Awshoo Ibrahim escaped a second assassination attempt in two days when gunmen fired at his convoy, killing four of his bodyguards and wounding five, police said.
  • A court in Iraq said Saddam Hussein has fired his legal team with one exception. The Iraqi Special Tribunal said Saddam has retained an Iraqi attorney, Khalil al-Dulaimi, who is the only person authorized to represent him.
  • The Polish military said the Polish-led multinational force stationed in Iraq has handed over to the Iraqis one of its bases — the "Zulu" base in the Wasit province. The base will be now under the control of Iraqi army's 8th division headed by Gen. Ottoman Farhood.

    As gunfire rattled through the streets of the commercial and residential district, merchants hurriedly shuttered their shops and pedestrians ducked for cover. Masked gunmen swaggered brazenly down the sidewalk, brandishing Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. At least one police car was set ablaze.

    The insurgents may have filmed their attack, a witness said. Two young men were seen driving slowly among the insurgents, apparently recording the scenes with a TV camera.

    Car bombs and assassinations occur in Baghdad almost daily. But daylight assaults by dozens of insurgents have declined sharply since Iraqi and U.S. forces regained control of the notorious Haifa street early this year.

    U.S. and Iraqi officials hope a new constitution will help curb violence by luring disaffected Sunnis away from the Sunni-dominated insurgency. That would allow the United States and its partners to begin bringing their troops home starting next year.