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 king urges Gulf leaders to stand up to Iran

Jewish pilgrims flock to Tunisia’s Djerba

IS claims Texas anti-Muslim event attack

Iran dreams big amid hopes for nuclear agreement

UAE reaches for Mars on ambitious space mission

Conflicts displace record 38 million people in 2014

Hezbollah targets Qaeda gathering along border with Syria

US seeks UN investigation on use of chemical weapons in Syria

Migrant misery continues as Italy faces tricky dilemma

Khamenei accuses Saudi Arabia of "immense crimes"

Egypt shows zero tolerance to ‘armed infiltrators’ in Sinai

‘Islamic State’ attack on Hasakeh leaves 16 Kurdish fighters dead

Netanyahu racing to form government

Assad says losing battles doesn't mean war is lost

Kerry to talk to Saudis about 'humanitarian pause' in Yemen

Jerusalem gets ready for first modern Palestinian saints

Kerry in Djibouti, home to main US military base in Africa

Obama nominates Marine general for top US military post

UN Syria envoy launches wide-ranging talks in Geneva

Top US diplomat sees ‘better future’ for Somalia

Israel closes investigation into killing of Arab Israeli youth

Qatar to build ‘cities’ for migrant workers

Saudi King warns of Iran threat to regional stability

Hamas launches crackdown on radical Salafist groups in Gaza

Kerry first high-ranking U.S. diplomat in Somalia

Iraq sends reinforcements to key Beiji refinery

Violent attacks force major hospital in Aleppo to close indefinitely

Rouhani denounces western pride in arms sales

Riyadh, Paris discuss multi-billion-euro projects

Prince Ali: I will continue FIFA race until the end

Israel PM still short of even slimmest majority

Saudi king sacks head of royal protocol

Hollande ‘guest of honour’ at GCC summit

Iraq Sunnis stay away from Tikrit for fear of revenge-seeking militias

Saudi Arabia considers ‘temporary’ halt in coalition air strikes

France looks to boost ties with Gulf countries

Taliban soften position after Qatar talks

Israel seeks to ease tensions with angry Ethiopian community

UN gears up to host separate talks with Syria rival sides

Hundreds of residents protest against Qaeda control of Yemen city

Qatar signs deal for 24 French Rafale fighter jets

Police foil attack against Prophet Muhammad exhibition in Texas

Lebanon security forces arrest IS-linked cleric

Recent disasters fail to slow tide of desperate migrants

Rumour of Al-Duri killing breathes life into shadow of Iraq dictator