First Published: 2005-02-11

 
Salman Pak, Iraq's new lawless hotspot
 

Insurgents step up series of grisly attacks against Iraq’s security forces in lawless Salman Pak.

 

Middle East Online

By Jean-Marc Mojon - BAGHDAD

Salman Pak could pose a more serious challenge to Iraqi forces

Salman Pak, a town southeast of Baghdad where insurgents launched a spectacular onslaught against police Thursday, has become Iraq's new hotspot where a motley army of Wahhabists, Saddamists and criminals are imposing their bloody rule.

Less than two weeks after the country's historic elections were hailed as a blow to the insurgency, a series of grisly attacks in the area has turned the spotlight back on the kind of violence that dominated the pre-vote period.

Insurgents carry out almost daily car bomb and suicide attacks against the country's security forces, but on Thursday gunmen launched a daring assault on the Salman Pak police station with rifles, rockets and mortars.

US gunships had to be called in to dislodge the rebels and the hours-long battle left at least 10 policemen dead and 75 wounded, local police said.

The government claimed that 20 attackers were also killed in the fighting.

Rebels launched a similar all-out assault on the main police station in Fallujah a year ago, before the city later became the main insurgent hub in the country.

Salman Pak is a town by the Tigris river which commands access from the capital to one of the two main roads leading to southern Iraq, including the country's second city of Basra.

According to witnesses and residents, rebels scan the flow of traffic leaving Baghdad and radio in to their accomplices further down the road the description of any car or convoy representing an interesting target.

Last month, rebels killed finance ministry employees and the representative of top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Salman Pak.

Salman Pak means Salman "the Pure" in Farsi, in reference to one of the prophet Mohammed's followers, who became the first Persian to convert to Islam.

In addition to political targets for carjacking, killing or kidnapping, the main road conveying merchandise between the country's two biggest cities is a goldmine for bandits.

The bodies of more than 20 truck drivers and four Iraqi police and soldiers were found in the same region, police said Thursday. Their convoy had been attacked at least two days earlier, but no one had dared touch them.

The convoy had been taking sugar to Baghdad for food warehouses which distribute monthly rations. They were attacked on the road from Salman Pak to Suwairah, further south.

The area is home to several Sunni Muslim tribes who follow the radical Wahhabi brand of Islam and gradually imposed their rule of terror.

Pro-Saddam slogans can still be seen scrawled on banners and walls along the road, which is littered with the burnt-out carcasses of cars attacked by the insurgents.

"On the day after the January 30, they stopped the traffic to see if any of the people had blue fingers," said a resident of a nearby village on condition of anonymity, in reference to the ink tag proving participation in the polls.

"I know that at least ten people had their finger cut off," he said.

Families who own several of the large farms flanking the river in the Suwairah area are related to Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, Saddam Hussein's fugitive former right-hand man, suspected of playing a role in organising the post-war resistance of former regime elements.

Four months ago, police in the city of Kut prepared a massive raid, but the information was leaked and the commandos were met with tough resistance, sparking battles which left dozens dead.

The deadly stretch of road is off-limits to any foreigner as rebels can cut it at any time to snatch their prey.

This makes any travel south of the capital extremely perilous as the only other southbound road passes through lawless towns such Mahmudiyah and Latifiyah, in an area which has been dubbed the "triangle of death".

In November 2004, US, British and Iraqi troops launched "Operation Plymouth Rock", a massive push to purge the area of wanted rebels. Residents say they have just moved east to the Salman Pak region.

Salman Pak itself is a larger city than Latifiyah and could pose a more serious challenge to Iraqi forces.

According to the head of Iraqi intelligence, General Mohammed Abdallah Shahwani, Salman Pak is "a guerrillas' fiefdom". "To reclaim the city would take a real battle," he said.

 

Saudi Arabia ousts head of Syria opposition government

Kerry again places onus on Hamas to accept ceasefire

Maliki meets Sunni tribal leaders in new bid to gain support

Islamists lose in Libya parliament elections

Syria oil industry suffers huge losses because of war

Turkey detains dozens of senior police officers for 'spying'

Israeli envoy: Our soldiers deserve a Nobel Peace Prize

Rights group denounces Kuwait's revocation of citizenship

Britain finds evidence of effort to Islamise state-run schools

Fiercest fighting in months hits Eastern Damascus

Iraq slams Jordan for hosting 'unacceptable' meeting of Sunni critics

Erdogan sacrifices Gaza mediation in favour of anti-Israel diatribes

Israel hits Al-Jazeera Gaza office

UN calls for help to vaccinate Syria toddlers against polio

Erdogan has stopped talking to Obama

Israel confirms kidnapped soldier is dead

South Sudan rebels pledge to pull troops out fails

Rouhani: More negotiations only solution for nuclear deal

Israel identify 12 soldiers killed over the weekend

UAE pledges $41 million aid for Gaza reconstruction

Security Council condemns persecution of Iraqi Christians

Deadly clashes erupt in Benghazi

27 Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza assault

One of world’s oldest monasteries falls into hands of jihadists in Iraq

Syria rebels expel jihadists from four areas in Damascus region

Kuwait revokes citizenship of owner of pro-opposition Al-Youm TV

Diplomacy intensifies to end weeks of deadly violence in Gaza

Turkey imposes curfew on Hakkari town after clashes

UAE slams Doha-based Al-Jazeera over fabricated Gaza news

Syria to Russia: Thanks for supporting our victory!

Behind the scene: Kerry criticises Israel offensive on Gaza

IAEA says Iran complying with nuclear deal

France slams and bans ‘anti-Semitic’ Gaza rally

UN chief denounces persecution of Iraqi Christians

Kerry in Cairo to stop Mideast conflict

At least 47 killed in battle for Libya airport

Gaza death toll exceeds 500 amid UN impotence

Bahrain files lawsuit to suspend Al-Wefaq activities

Shejaiya massacre: Israel’s revenge for killing of 13 soldiers in Gaza

Egypt summons Turkey charge d'affaires over Erdogan’s criticism

South Sudanese rebels launch offensive to retake key town

Lebanon detains two over shocking child beating video

Syria President maintains mum on Faruq al-Sharaa

‘Islamic State’ claims responsibility for deadly Baghdad bombings

Bloody Sunday in Gaza as nearly 90 Palestinians killed