Just five days after the United States declared the end of its combat mission in Iraq, U.S. soldiers opened fire Sunday morning on suicide bombers who snuck into an Iraqi army base in Baghdad, a U.S. military spokesman said.
The assailants detonated a car bomb outside an army division headquarters housed in the former defense ministry building, killing at least 12 people, most of them Iraqi soldiers, authorities said. The blast wounded at least 20 people at the complex, where a bombing last month targeting recruits killed more than 60 people.
A gun battle raged for more than two hours after the explosion as Iraqi soldiers tried to corral the two bombers who managed to get inside the base, Iraqi officials at the scene said. A small contingent of U.S. soldiers is based at the facility.
The assailants, who wore vests rigged with explosives, threw grenades as Iraqi soldiers shot at them from a distance, fearing that their bullets could detonate the bombs. American soldiers backed them up with “suppressive fire,” said Lt. Col. Eric Bloom, the U.S. military spokesman. U.S. helicopters, drones and explosives experts also responded.
During the shooting, the explosives in the vests detonated, killing the suicide bombers. Two other men wearing explosive vests were shot in the head outside the building. Their vests were defused.
The brazen attack is the second targeting the base in less than a month.
The involvement of U.S. soldiers underscored that while they are no longer officially in a combat mission, many among the roughly 50,000 American soldiers still in Iraq remain in harm’s way.
Commanders have stressed that U.S. soldiers retain the right to self-defense and will conduct joint operations with Iraqi security forces.
The attack also illustrated how much help Iraq’s fledgling security forces need as insurgents continue their almost daily attacks.
Just before the U.S. military officially changed their mission from combat to stability operations last week, the Iraqi government put the nation and security forces on high alert in anticipation of attacks.
Despite the extra checkpoints that have worsened traffic jams throughout Baghdad, the bombers were able to infiltrate a high-profile building and kill a dozen people outside.
Many worry that without an Iraqi government in place nearly six months after Iraq’s national election and after a declaration by President Obama that it was time to “turn the page” in Iraq, violence will continue to increase as it did last month. Washington Post