Al Qaida gunmen kill dozens of Iraqi policemen in Diyala province

BAGHDAD — Gunmen thought to be affiliated with Al Qaida in Iraq ambushed and killed 27 Iraqi policemen and eight anti-Qaida fighters near Baqouba on Wednesday, police and hospital officials said.

Among those killed were three high-ranking officers whom gunmen captured and executed, officials said. Four other policemen were injured.

The ambush took place Wednesday afternoon as an Iraqi police battalion of about 300, along with a group of anti-Qaida fighters, patrolled a village south of Khan Bani Saad in Diyala province, 15 miles south of Baqouba.

Police said the battalion entered the village thinking it was safe because the area had recently been raided and cleared.

But soon after the battalion arrived, the gunmen opened fire in a wooded area. It's unclear how many attackers were involved. None of them was killed, officials said.

"They were shooting from all sides," a policeman who survived the attack said. "It was like we were fighting ghosts." The policeman told officials that three high-ranking police officers were captured and executed.

Anti-Qaida fighters, known as the Sons of Iraq, have become common targets for al Qaida. Many anti-Qaida leaders in Diyala province have gone into hiding.

The four injured policemen were treated at a hospital in Baghdad, officials said.

The gunmen are thought to have escaped. Police said al Qaida in Iraq had threatened to kill police, and the ambush fit the operating style of the Sunni extremist group.

Despite recent security gains, Diyala province has seen continued violence. In July, Iraqi forces backed by the U.S. military launched a campaign to fight insurgents there, but attacks have continued in the province.

A McClatchy special correspondent in Diyala, who could not be identified for reasons of his own security, contributed to this report.


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