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.

 

New government in Yemen plus cut in fuel prices

11 Egypt policemen killed in Sinai bomb blast

US army back in Somalia

Paris, Riyadh 'finalising' $3bn Lebanon arms deal

Sudan orders Iran to close cultural centres

Syria arrests pro-regime activists over criticism

Libya pro-Islamist figure presents rival cabinet lineup

Israel faces mounting criticism over Palestinian land grab

Saudi Arabia arrests 88 suspected extremists in 'anti-terror' drive

New UN chief for South Sudan faces ‘huge challenge’

US air strikes target senior Shebab officials in Somalia

‘Scourge of terrorism’ pushes Africa to intensify cooperation

Relatives of missing Iraq soldiers storm parliament in Baghdad

IS accused of 'systematic ethnic cleansing' in Iraq

UK announces tougher measures against Britons planning jihad

Algeria hosts new round of Mali peace talks

US launches new round of air strikes around Iraq dam

Turkey summons US charge d'affaires over Snowden claims

Turkey new PM promises peace with Kurds

Will UN Human Rights Council investigate IS abuses?

Iran convicts Ahmadinejad's vice president for embezzlement

Fierce clashes shatter uneasy calm near armistice line in Golan Heights

Turkey detains dozens of police in new nationwide raids

Libya loses control of Tripoli to Islamist-led militias

Thousands of Huthis defy UN in new show of strength

Iraq presses fightback against jihadist-led militants

Wounded Gazans need long-term care

Britain to go tougher on jihadist suspects

Libyan Islamist militiamen control US embassy compound

Israel shoots down drone over occupied Golan Heights

Yemen army suffers heavy losses in new wave of Qaeda attacks

Turkish army breaks silence on Kurdish peace talks

Islamic State offers grim inspiration to African extremists

Shebab target intelligence HQ in Somalia

Israel expropriates 988 acres of Palestinian land in West Bank

Iraq recaptures Amerli from Islamic State in biggest success so far

Saudi King calls for ‘strong and rapid action’ against jihadists

Jihadists distribute Yazidi women as spoils of war to fighters

Gulf countries resolve six-month dispute with Qatar

Egypt reduces Badie death sentence to life in prison

AU forces liberate former Shebab stronghold in Somalia

Philippines enters war in Syria!

Kurds put aside old rivalries to battle jihadists in Iraq

Iran says new sanctions cast doubt on US sincerity

US imposes new sanctions on Iran