Al-Qaida plants flag in Baghdad as 23 die in Iraq

Iraqi security forces gather at the scene of an attack on a checkpoint in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, July 29, 2010. Militants Thursday killed a number of Iraq's security forces with a combination of shootings and roadside bombs that was a bitter demonstration of the dangers Iraqi forces still face

BAGHDAD—Al-Qaida briefly planted its flag in Baghdad on Thursday as militants killed 23 members of Iraq’s security forces across the country in a combination of shootings and roadside bombs demonstrating the dangers the country still faces.

The worst attack came in Baghdad’s Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah when 16 Iraqi security forces were killed by what appeared to have been coordinated strikes by al-Qaida militants, who then planted their flag close to the blood-soaked site.

The daylight attack on the northern district, once an insurgent stronghold, was the boldest move by militants since their commando-style assault on the Central Bank in June that left 26 people dead during morning rush hour.

It also suggests the insurgents are looking to regain some sort of foothold in at least part of the capital as the U.S. military presence diminishes and Iraqi security forces struggle to keep the peace without the promise of American backup.

Militants attacked an Azamiyah checkpoint and then set it on fire, burning several of the soldiers’ bodies, according to an army officer who was on patrol in the neighborhood. Minutes later, attackers detonated three roadside bombs nearby, the officials said.

A large pool of blood and what appear to be char marks could be seen on the ground near an Iraqi army truck. Authorities immediately sealed off the area.

The Azamiyah attack came in what was already a deadly day for Iraq’s security forces, which are increasingly being targeted by insurgents as all but 50,000 U.S. troops prepare to leave the country by the end of August.

All American troops are set to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.

Earlier Thursday, a suicide bomber drove a minibus into the main gate of an Iraqi army base near Saddam Hussein’s hometown north of Baghdad, killing four soldiers and wounding 10, said police and hospital officials.

In the western city of Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, two roadside bombs targeting Iraqi army patrols killed two soldiers and wounded eight others, police and hospital officials in the city said.

In the northern city of Mosul, a bomb attached to a police vehicle killed one policeman and injured two others, a police official said.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The attacks underline the fact that militant groups can still strike with lethal force across Iraq, despite an improvement in the security situation over the last three years.

Also Thursday, an al-Qaida-linked group claimed responsibility for a bombing earlier this week that targeted the Baghdad offices of a pan-Arab television station killing six people, describing it as a victory against a “corrupt channel.”

The Arabic-language news channel Al-Arabiya is one of the most popular in the Middle East but is perceived by insurgents as being pro-Western.

“We take responsibility for targeting this corrupt channel, and we will not hesitate to hit any media office and chase its staffers if they insist on being a tool of war against almighty God and his prophet,” the announcement said.

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