At least 27 police officers were killed and three wounded in organized attacks in western Iraq this morning, Reuters reported.
According to The Wall Street Journal, officials in the capital and in Anbar province said the attacks were carried out by Islamic State of Iraq, an affiliate of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
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A police source told the news agency that the attacks began Monday 2:00 a.m. local time in the town of Haditha, in Anbar province. Gunmen drove to officers' homes, where they kidnapped and then executed policemen, as well as opening fire on police checkpoints along the way.
According to the Associated Press, Iraqi authorities described "a systematic plot to kill city police, with attackers disguising themselves in military uniforms and driving cars painted to look like Iraqi interior ministry vehicles."
The attackers apparently told officers they had come to arrest them, bearing fake warrants and confiscating their cell phones. Some victims were found dead a short distance from where they had been abducted, others were shot at their posts.
One of the officers who was killed, Col. Mohammed Shafar, was the former leader of the Awakening movement, according to The New York Times, a group of Sunni militias that switched sides to fighe against Al Qaeda and had America's backing.
After a firefight at one checkpoint, the attackers raised an Al Qaeda flag, a police official told the AP. The BBC cited police spokesman Major Tareq Sayeh Hardan as saying that Al Qaeda literature was found in one of the attackers' vehicles.
Three gunmen were killed in the shootout. The others reportedly escaped.
Al Jazeera reported that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki fired the top security official in Anbar province, Lt. Gen. Abdul Aziz Al Obaidi.
The AP noted that the town of Haditha is a symbolic and strategic location, as its proximity to the Syrian border makes it more vulnerable and exposed, without protection from the central Iraqi government.
Al Qaeda used to control much of Anbar province, but was driven out by US forces and tribal militia. According to Reuters, these latest attacks raise concern that the insurgent will regain its foothold in the area following the withdrawal of US troops in December.
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