World and Nation

Baghdad attack highlights still dangerous role of U.S.

BAGHDAD — Insurgents mounted a coordinated attack on one of the main military commands in Baghdad on Sunday, briefly drawing fire from American soldiers, an event that underscored the ambiguity of the American military role in Iraq after the declared end of its combat operations.

The attack punctuated a sharp rise in violence as the United States declared an official end to its combat mission here effective last Wednesday.

A group of at least six armed men, some of them rigged with explosives, attacked a rear gate at the base, the headquarters of Iraq’s 11th army division, which houses the command responsible for security in the part of the capital east of the Tigris River and a federal police brigade, as well as American advisers and the soldiers who protect them. None of the Americans were reported hurt.

The insurgents detonated a vehicle outside the base, killing the driver, while another suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest at a checkpoint. After an initial lull, as Iraqi forces collected the dead and wounded, the attack continued for three hours as two insurgents escaped into the building, firing automatic weapons and throwing grenades from an upper floor window.

At least 12 people were killed, at least four of them soldiers, officials said, and 36 others were wounded. None of the Americans were reported hurt. The Baghdad Operations Command said that all six insurgents had been killed.

A spokesman for the American military in Baghdad, Lt. Col. Eric Bloom, confirmed in a statement that American soldiers had joined the defense of the compound, providing “suppressive fire” while Iraqi Army troops counterattacked.

As has often been the case in attacks, the American military also had helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles providing surveillance, and explosives experts took part in the forensic examination of the attack.

The attack was a reminder — unnecessary to Iraqis — that the shift in the American mission did not portend an end to insurgent violence. It also underscored the ambiguous and still-dangerous position for Americans in their role as advisers to Iraq’s beleaguered security forces, who face almost daily attacks from insurgents.

A civilian official who works in the command, which includes the division’s budget office, witnessed American troops inside briefly shooting at the two insurgents who had entered the building and began firing on Iraqi and American soldiers and commanders.