Assault on Iraq army headquarters kills 12

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BAGHDAD (AP) — Suicide bombers hit a Baghdad military headquarters on Sunday and killed 12 people, two weeks after an attack on the same site pointed to the failure of Iraqi forces to plug even the most obvious holes in their security.

Baghdad has been on high alert as the United States declared the official end to its combat operations in Iraq last week, yet the militants still managed to attack an obvious target in the center of the city that has been struck very recently.

On Aug. 17, an al-Qaeda-linked suicide bomber blew himself up at the same east Baghdad military headquarters and killed 61 army recruits in the deadliest act of violence in Baghdad in months.

Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, an Iraqi military spokesman, said in a statement that 12 people were killed in Sunday’s attack and 36 were injured. Five soldiers were among the dead.

In Sunday’s attack a car bomb charged the building and exploded, and then gunmen assaulted the headquarters, battling the building’s guards in a 15-minute firefight in the middle of downtown Baghdad, according to police officials, who said at least three militants were wearing explosives belts.

The bombers were headed to the building’s entrance on foot but were shot by the guards before they could trigger their devices. One was only wounded and has been taken into custody.

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

Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, a Defense Ministry spokesman, confirmed that some of the gunmen were wearing explosives belts. He said they were planning a second blast.

“The plan was to strike twice,” he said. “First with a car bomb and then with suicide bombers.”

Sunday’s attack is an embarrassment for the officials in the capital, where security has been high in past days as insurgents intensify their strikes on Iraqi police and soldiers to mark the change in the U.S. mission.

The building attacked on Sunday is the headquarters of the Iraqi Army’s 11th Division and an army recruitment center. In mid-August attack, al Qaeda boasted that its operative easily passed through checkpoints before detonating his explosives belt in a crowd of officers and recruits outside the building.

The Iraqi security forces are now solely responsible for protecting the country after President Obama declared an end to U.S. combat operations on Wednesday. Many, however, doubt that Iraq’s police and army are a match for the well-armed insurgency determined to bring down the Shiite-led government.

Last week, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki put his nation on its highest level of alert for terror attacks, warning of plots to sow fear and chaos in the country. He said insurgents would try to exploit widespread frustration with years of frequent power outages and problems with other public services by staging riots and attacks on government offices.

U.S. and Iraqi officials long have worried that political instability would lead to widespread violence in Iraq, and the lack of a power-sharing agreement among the competing leaders only has increased fears.

Six months after an inconclusive election in March, Iraq still has no government as Mr. al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, struggles to keep his job after his political coalition came in a close second to a Sunni-dominated alliance at the March 7 vote.

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