On March 29, 2011 unknown insurgents launched a brazen attack upon the Salahaddin provincial council building in Tikrit. They fooled local guards, took hostages, executed them, before killing themselves, while Iraqi forces were storming the headquarters. This marked the fourth headline grabbing attack within the province, and another attempt by militants to try to appear relevant.
The siege of the Salahaddin provincial council building in Tikrit started at around 1 pm. The attackers fired three mortar shells at the headquarters, drawing the guards to the site. Then the insurgents, wearing Iraqi army uniforms showed up claiming that they were responding to the explosions. They were stopped at a checkpoint however, and told they were going to be searched. That led the militants to open fire, and storm the building. That day, the provincial council was due to hold a session, but ended early so most of the officials and their staff had left. The attackers were still able to take 15 people hostage, and barricaded themselves on the second floor. When Iraqi forces showed up, they were greeted by a car bomb. American soldiers also arrived, providing security at the perimeter, and helicopters for air support. A few U.S. troops were reportedly wounded during the shooting. Eventually, the Iraqi security forces stormed the building, leading the attackers to kill all their hostages. Those included three members of the provincial council, Mehdi al-Aran, head of the religious committee, Wafiq Samarraie, the leader of the health committee, and Abdullah Jebara, plus the Salahaddin police chief Colonel Emad Ofan. They were all shot in the head, and to add to the brutality, their bodies were then set on fire. The insurgents followed that by setting off suicide vests killing themselves. In total, 56 people ended up dead and 98 were wounded. It’s unclear from reports how many of the remaining captives were casualties of the attackers or the Iraqi police as they attempted to retake the building. No on took responsibility for the incident, but it had all the hallmarks of Al Qaeda in Iraq with a high level of planning, sophistication, and suicide bombers. That’s also who officials were quick to blame.
The Islamists have been behind several other attacks in Salahaddin since the beginning of the year. On January 18, 54 police recruits were killed and 137 wounded by a suicide bomber in Tikrit. On February 26, gunmen stormed the Baiji refinery, killing one, and then setting off explosives that shut down the facility for several days. Finally, on March 10, the northern pipeline to Turkey was also blown up in Salahaddin, closing it down as well. Militants were obviously able to organize, plan, and build up their supplies and manpower in the province to carry out these repeated attacks, topped off by the assault upon the provincial headquarters.
Despite these onslaughts, security in Iraq remains at the lowest levels since the 2003 overthrow of Saddam. Overall, attacks have crept up from just under 30 per week at the beginning of January to around 60 by the end of March. That would still put them at just the same level as the end of 2010 with most centered in Baghdad and Ninewa governorates. As one captured Al Qaeda operative told the Iraqi forces, the group’s assaults are actually meant to gain publicity and make it appear that the country is still unstable. He went on to say that the organization often planned their operations specifically to gain as much media attention as possible. By doing so, they want to make themselves still relevant even they have lost most popular support, and are a shell of their former selves. In fact, foreign businesses have come to see most of the violence as highly targeted and political in nature within Iraq, so much so that they have greatly increased their investments in the country last year. Al Qaeda and other groups will continue with these types of attacks, but they do not have the ability to shake the current status quo.
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