BAGHDAD — Gunmen disguised as police officers seized control of a police station in western Iraq on Monday morning, killing four people and taking dozens of hostages before Iraqi forces swept in and ended the standoff, Iraqi officials said.
The three-hour hostage crisis, as well as another attack nearby on a police officer's house, demonstrated the vulnerability of the Iraqi security forces at a time when U.S. troops are swiftly drawing down their presence after more than eight years of war.
Four insurgents wearing explosive-laden vests underneath police uniforms and armed with grenades and pistols with silencers walked into the police compound in al-Baghdadi around 9 a.m., said Brig. Mohammed al-Fahdawi of the Iraqi army's 7th Division in Anbar province.
Because the gunmen were wearing police uniforms, they were not searched, he said.
The gunmen shot and killed three police officers, including the director of the police station, and an employee in the mayor's office before seizing weapons held in the police station, said Brig. al-Fahdawi, who coordinated the rescue operation.
The gunmen herded the hostages into some of the rooms, said a police officer at the scene who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
After the Iraqi army arrived on the scene and exchanged gunfire with the assailants, Brig. al-Fahdawi said he ordered his men to storm the building.
The mayor, Muhanad Zbar Mutlaq, was inside at the time.
After hearing the shooting, the mayor grabbed his cellphone and ran into the bathroom next to his office, locking the door behind him. He said he put his cellphone on silent and began sending text messages to Iraqi army officers he knows.
Two of the insurgents blew themselves up when Iraqi police stormed the station to free the estimated 40 people held inside, said Brig. al-Fahdawi. Security forces killed the other two assailants, he said.
Gunmen also attacked the home of the police chief in the town of al-Dolab about 10 miles away from al-Baghdadi, said Lt. Col. Mohammed Ismail of the Anbar police media office.
He said three gunmen were killed when they tried to storm the house, which is located near the town's police station.
Violence in Iraq is nothing like it was in 2006 or 2007 when the insurgency was at its most vicious. But militants have demonstrated a dogged persistence in carrying out attacks despite repeated crackdowns by U.S. and Iraqi forces.
Under a 2008 agreement, all U.S. forces must leave Iraq by the end of this year, although U.S. and Iraqi officials have been discussing retaining a small U.S. military presence into 2012.
There are about 43,000 U.S. troops still in the country.