At least three policemen were killed, while 25 policemen and eight
civilians were wounded, including the deputy head of the city
council, Ammar Ahmed, the Samarra hospital's Doctor Omar al-Obeidi
The gunmen stormed the area after a suicide bomber detonated his
vest at the entrance of the compound, which is sealed off with blast
walls, Police Lieutenant Dhafir Ahmed said.
Two of the dead policemen had been racing to help when a parked car
bomb blew up their vehicle about 200 meters (yards) from the site.
Gunmen had taken the city council's second floor and its roof.
"The gunmen are in the council building. Local council employees and
court employees are trapped inside," Ahmed said.
"We are waiting for Iraqi army helicopters to give us cover so we
can raid the building."
Samarra has long been troubled by unrest. Sunni militant groups have
regularly attacked local Sunni government officials along with the
Iraqi army and police.
In late December, gunmen seized the state television channel in
Tikrit, the capital of Salahuddin province. The fighters employed
similar tactics to those used in Samarra on Tuesday.
Sunni Islamist insurgents have been regaining ground in Iraq over
the past year and in recent weeks overran several towns.
Last year was Iraq's bloodiest since sectarian violence began to
abate in 2008, with more than 8,000 civilians killed. More than 700
people died in violence in Iraq in February, the United Nations said
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki says the upsurge is a spillover
from the civil war in neighboring Syria but critics say his own
policies are at least partly to blame for reviving an insurgency
that climaxed in 2006-07.
[to top of second column]
Many in Iraq's once-dominant Sunni Muslim minority feel they have
been sidelined in the Shi'ite-led political order that took shape
after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that toppled Sunni dictator
Sunni militants have shown themselves adept at breaking into state
compounds in recent years. Their targets have included attacks on
the Iraqi central bank in the heart of Baghdad in 2010 and the
freeing of more than 500 prisoners from Abu Ghraib prison west of
Baghdad last summer.
Security in Iraq deteriorated after army and police shot dead more
than 50 demonstrators at a Sunni protest site in Hawija in northern
Iraq last April.
That event was used as an excuse by al Qaeda inspired militants to
carry out a campaign of suicide bombings in Shiite parts of the
country and other attacks.
Since January, after Maliki's government arrested a Sunni lawmaker
and cleared a protest camp in the Sunni city of Ramadi in western
Anbar province, the army has been battling angry Sunni tribes and al
Qaeda-linked groups for control of both Ramadi and nearby Falluja.
The concentration of troops in western Iraq has opened up space for
armed groups to carry out attacks in other parts of the country,
including Baghdad and northern Salahuddin and Nineveh provinces.
(Additional reporting Ahmed Rasheed; writing by Ned Parker;
by Angus MacSwan)
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