Police stations are attacked
Insurgents keep targeting police to destabilize the interim government.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Insurgents loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr downed a U.S. helicopter during fierce clashes today in the holy city of Najaf, and the wounded crew was evacuated.
Also today, a suicide car bombing killed five people and wounded 27 at a police station south of Baghdad, the Interior Ministry said.
The fighting in Najaf began early in the morning when al-Sadr's Mahdi Army attacked a police station on Revolution of 1920 Square with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikov rifles. Najaf's governor, Adnan al-Zurufi, told the Al-Jazeera satellite channel that the U.S. Marines intervened "to help the policemen protect the police stations and the city."
Al-Zurufi said armed militias attacked the police station about 1:50 a.m. and two people had been killed so far.
During the battle, a UH-1 helicopter was hit and crashed. The crew was hurt and evacuated to safety.
The Najaf fighting, the fiercest in weeks, threatens a fragile cease-fire between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi and U.S. authorities. Al-Zurufi warned of "very bad consequences" if the militiamen did not disarm and leave the holy city.
In the vehicle bombing in Mahawil, 53 miles south of Baghdad, a bus approached and two gunmen clad in police uniforms hopped out and opened fire on the police station. They escaped, while the bomber inside the bus died in the bomb explosion.
The blast damaged the gate of the station and a dozen nearby cars and left a crater in the ground.
"I was outside the building when I saw a car heading toward us. We started shooting. I'm sure we shot him but he managed to explode the car," said police Capt. Adel Omran, who has shrapnel in his leg.
Insurgents have repeatedly targeted police as part of their campaign to destabilize the interim government -- killing 710 from April 2003 to May 2004.
The guerrillas see police as collaborators with the American-led coalition forces.
"What do these criminals want from Iraqis? They sometimes target the Sunnis, the Shiites and the Christians and other times they target the police and the army. They, however do nothing to the Americans," said Zayd Hadi, a civilian who was outside the station and suffered wounds to his face and stomach.
Farther north, a series of battles between Iraqi authorities and insurgents in the city of Mosul killed 14 civilians and eight insurgents Wednesday, the U.S. military said.
Iraqi authorities said today that 17 people had been killed and 47 wounded.