Gun battle inside Iraq's Interior Ministry leaves 17 dead

BAGHDAD — Six policemen, including three high-ranking officers, and 11 prisoners were killed in a six-hour gun battle that took place inside the heavily fortified compound of the Ministry of the Interior in Baghdad Saturday evening, police said Sunday.

It was a highly embarrassing setback for the Iraqi security services. Police said the detainees had all confessed to membership in the Islamic State of Iraqi, the Iraqi extremist group linked to al Qaida and to planning and implementing a number of assaults, including the bloody attack on Lady of Salvation Church in October 2010, when more than 50 people were killed.

Appearing before reporters Sunday, four ministry officials gave a confusing and incomplete account of the incident and then departed after taking three questions.

The incident began at 10 p.m. Saturday night, the officials said.

"While one of the employees was trying to go to the W.C. (toilet), one of the insurgents was able to grab his pistol and started shooting," said Maj. Gen. Dheya Hussein, general director of the anti-terror directorate.

He said Brig. Gen. Muyad al Salih, the director general of investigations in Baghdad's Karrada district, ran in the direction of the melee and was killed by one of the insurgents. Three prisoners then seized a government vehicle and tried to break out of the compound but were shot to death by one of the guards in the security towers.

Neither Hussein nor his colleagues could explain the security lapse that allowed the insurgents to obtain the weapons to fight police for six hours. Other ministry officials said the full story has not yet come out.

One official said the battle occurred in the counter-terrorism offices. It ended only when a SWAT team arrived at the location of the gun battle and surrounded the insurgents on one floor of the building. After failing to persuade the insurgents to surrender, the SWAT team killed them.

Gen. Qasim al Mosawi, spokesman for Baghdad Operations, said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki ordered an investigation.

The incident occurred a little more than two months into a wave of assassinations of high-ranking security officers and civil officials. The combination of setbacks is likely to raise questions about the capability of the Iraqi security forces, who are due to take total charge of internal security when U.S. forces depart at the end of this year.

(Hammoudi is a special correspondent in Baghdad. Roy Gutman contributed.)


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