First Published: 2005-02-11

Salman Pak, Iraq's new lawless hotspot

Insurgents step up series of grisly attacks against Iraqs 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.


Pro-Turkish forces loot Afrin

Israel arrests French consulate worker for gun smuggling

Sudan leader backs Sisi election bid

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Iraqis flock to flea market for relics of bygone era

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed

Turkey insists no plans to remain in Afrin

Cairo voters show unwavering support for native son Sisi

Forum in Jordan explores new teaching techniques

Gaza Strip woes receive renewed attention but no fix is expected

Kurds, Syrian opposition condemn Afrin looting

36 jihadists killed in Egypt’s Sinai

Israel prepares to demolish Jerusalem attacker's home

Saudi crown prince says his country to seek nuclear bomb if Iran does

Arab women artists in diaspora focus on identity and loss

Tunisia’s Central Bank targets inflation but may hurt growth prospects

Libya’s health system reflects a larger humanitarian crisis

Israel blasts Gaza underground tunnel

Abu Dhabi awards France's Total stakes in oil concessions

Erdogan says Afrin city centre under ‘total’ control

Egypt tries to contain Sudan but challenges, suspicions remain

US defence secretary presses Oman on Iran weapons smuggling

Syrian regime retakes two towns from Ghouta rebels

Hamas shutters mobile firm after Gaza attack on PM

Israel punishes family members of West Bank attacker

Syria opposition says UN 'failed to prevent' Assad 'crimes'

UK tries to soothe Egyptian anger over mob attack death

Hundreds of thousands flee in dual Syria assaults

Turkish Cypriots vow to stand firm in gas dispute

Intensifying assaults in Syria spark dual evacuations

Tearful reunions, uncertain fates for Syrians fleeing Ghouta

Iran deal signatories meet as Trump deadline looms

Thirty years on, Kurds remember Halabja massacre

Air India says will fly over Saudi airspace to Tel Aviv

UN chief calls for end to Lebanese 'meddling' in Syria

Turkey seeks jail for journalists opposing government

UN says civilians trapped, used as 'human shields' in Afrin

Iran, Russia, Turkey hold Syria talks in Astana

Civilians killed in Turkish fire on Syria's Afrin

US Defense Secretary says Iran 'mucking around' in Iraq elections

No room for debate in Egyptian elections

Thousands flee Syria's Ghouta after month-long bombardment

Israel closes migrant detention centre in expulsion plan