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Iraqi Insurgents Attack Provincial Council

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Iraqi Insurgents Attack Provincial Council

Middle East

Iraqi Insurgents Attack Provincial Council

Iraqi Insurgents Attack Provincial Council

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In the Iraqi town of Tikrit Tuesday, gunmen attacked the provincial council headquarters, taking hostages and setting off a battle that raged for hours. By the time it was over, some 50 people had been killed. Melissa Block speaks with NPR's Mike Shuster, who joins us from Baghdad.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Fromm NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

It was a day of murderous carnage in the Iraqi city of Tikrit, north of Baghdad. Around lunchtime, a squad of insurgents attacked the provincial council building with a car bomb, suicide bombs, grenades and automatic weapons. When it was all over, hours later, all of the gunmen were dead but not before they had killed dozens, including 15 hostages. All told, more than 50 people died in Tikrit, nearly 100 were injured.

NPR's Mike Shuster has been following the story from Baghdad.

And, Mike, why don't you tell us more of what you've learned about this attack, how it played out.

MIKE SHUSTER: Melissa, it's not precisely clear how many attackers there were, probably in the eight to 12 range. Their attack was obviously well planned. It appeared that one of the first things that happened was that a car bomb exploded near the council building. Then the gunmen opened fire, attacked the building with grenades and automatic weapons.

They managed to quickly to get inside the building and they threw grenades inside and started shooting at security forces wherever they could find them, outside and inside. It appears they took control of the building really quickly. And there were reports they put snipers on the roof.

When they were inside, then they took hostages. Initially it was reported that only a few hostages were taken. But after the whole thing ended it turned out there were many more hostages than that.

BLOCK: Now, this was a regular Tuesday meeting of the provincial council in Tikrit. What do you know about what kind of security would've been in place?

SHUSTER: There should have been a lot of security in place. These provincial council buildings, and they house local government all over Iraq, they've got lots of security and it's very difficult to get inside. But the attackers wore Iraqi military uniforms, so initially the security forces on the scene were fooled into thinking that these guys were legitimate and they were allowed to pass through checkpoints near the building.

When the attack got underway, the reports we're getting indicate that the security forces did fight back fiercely. But the element of surprise at the beginning gave the gunmen a clear advantage. Then, when the security forces pulled themselves together, they brought in additional troops and they stormed the building. In the end, the gunmen shot all the hostages, perhaps as many as 15, and then they burned some of the bodies, according to the reports we're getting here.

Then they detonated several suicide bomb belts and all the gunmen were believed to have died. And among the dead was one of local Iraqi journalist who worked for Reuters and Arabiya satellite TV channel.

BLOCK: And has there been any claim of responsibility for this attack?

SHUSTER: There has not yet been a claim of responsibility. But witnesses on the scene said they recognized one attacker as a member of al-Qaida. Tikrit is a known stronghold of al-Qaida and other Sunni insurgent groups, former Ba'athists, extreme nationalists. It actually was the hometown of Saddam Hussein, so it's not surprising that there's that kind of political sentiment in Tikrit.

There was also a jailbreak in Tikrit recently. And insurgents from these groups broke out of jail, and it's believed that at least one of the gunmen was among those who recently was part of that jailbreak.

BLOCK: Put this attack, if you could, into a bit of context for us, Mike, in terms of the level of violence right now in Iraq.

SHUSTER: There hasn't been an attack like this, with this level of violence since last October, when gunmen attacked a Catholic church in Baghdad and more than 60 people died. There are regular attacks in Iraq but they are at a very low level now. It feels much safer to be out on the street. But then, every now and then something like this or a series of bomb attacks occurs, and it makes it clear there are still people want to really wreak havoc in Iraq out there.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Mike Shuster talking about the attack today on the provincial council building in Tikrit, Iraq. Mike, thanks very much.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Melissa.

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