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The mayor of Haditha and his son were executed in July 2003. The next year, after U.S. forces pulled back their protections, insurgents executed dozens of local policemen in a soccer stadium. U.S. troops returned to Haditha with force in 2005, but at least 20 Marines and an interpreter were killed in separate attacks.
But it was a November 2005 bombing that touched off an attack that still has people in Haditha seething.
A Marine convoy hit a roadside bomb in Haditha that day, killing three U.S. troops. Incensed, the surviving Marines shot five men by a car at the scene and stormed several nearby houses, where they cleared rooms with grenades and gunfire. Twenty-four Iraqis were killed, including unarmed women and children. Only one Marine was convicted, although he was spared prison time.
The dominant Sunni tribe in Haditha is the al-Jughaifi. The SWAT team leader, Col. Mohammed Hussein, was a al-Jughaifi tribesman and was also a founding member in Haditha of the Sahwa militiamen, or Awakening Councils, that joined forces with the U.S. military to fight al Qaeda at the height of Iraq‘s insurgency. The al-Jughaifi are traditionally farmers or smugglers who live in the area between Haditha and al-Qaim.
Many tribesmen were al Qaeda until they switched allegiances to the U.S. military.
The Jazeera desert area is also a few hours from the Syrian border. Iraqi intelligence officials say weapons smugglers and fighters secretly have crossed into Syria to fight alongside local opposition forces against Mr. Assad.
Insurgent groups have been hammering Iraqi security forces with attacks, seeking to undermine the public’s confidence in the ability of their policemen and soldiers. The impersonation of military personnel by insurgents also makes citizens distrustful of anyone wearing a uniform.
Monday’s strike was the third in as many weeks that showed evidence of careful planning by an insurgency bent on proving their might.
On Feb. 23, widespread shootings and bombing across Iraq killed 55 and wounded more than 200 in attacks for which al Qaeda immediately claimed responsibility. Two days earlier, a suicide bomber detonated his car as a group of police recruits left their academy in Baghdad, killing 20.
The Haditha lieutenant described Monday’s killing spree as “the first bold attack” on the city in years.
Authorities in Haditha quickly locked down the city with a curfew and deployed the Iraqi army there to keep order.
Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Lara Jakes in Baghdad contributed to this report.
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