In a coordinated assault on an American combat outpost north of Baghdad on Monday, suicide bombers drove three cars laden with explosives into the base, killing two American soldiers and wounding at least 17 more, according to witnesses and the American military.
The brazen and highly unusual attack, which was followed by fierce gun battles and a daring evacuation of the wounded Americans by helicopter, came on a day of violence across the country that left more than 40 people dead in shootings, suicide bombings, mortar attacks and roadside explosions.
The violence was directed at civilians, Americans and the Iraqi security forces.
Many of the attacks north of Baghdad were conducted by Sunni militants, possibly seeking a firmer hold on havens outside of Baghdad as American and Iraqi troops flood the streets here in an attempt to stem the bloodshed, according to American and Iraqi military officials.
A family of thirteen was slaughtered on the road leading Fallujah, 12 miles northwest of Baghdad, because they belonged to a tribe known to oppose the actions of al-Qaida in Iraq, according to witnesses. The family, including an elderly woman and two small boys, was dragged out of an Akia minibus, lined up in the middle of the road, and shot. The executions took place in full view of others on the road, where traffic was stopped, witnesses said.
The dead lay on the highway for hours because people were afraid they would be ambushed if they collected the bodies, witnesses said.
The assault on the American base, located in the heart of a town called Tarmyia, was unusual because militants have largely avoided attacking heavily fortified American positions directly. Instead, over the past year, they have generally fired mortar rounds from a distance, or used snipers to wait for targets of opportunity, or planted improvised explosive devices on roads frequented by soldiers.
The posts of the Iraqi army and police, however, have frequently come under direct assault, especially in areas where Sunni militants have been strong.
With American troops now moving into similarly small combat outposts in Baghdad neighborhoods for the first time since the early months after the invasion, the attack in Tarmyia underscored the risks they face.
Americans had only occupied the outpost in Tarmyia for three months, residents said. They took over control after the collapse of the local police force, following a campaign of intimidation by al-Qaida in Iraq. Tarmyia residents interviewed about Monday’s events, who spoke only on condition that they not be named, would not go into detail about al-Qaida’s tactics, but in other Sunni cities north of Baghdad, the group has been brutal, using public killings to ensure that the civilians do not challenge them or work with the Americans.
An American military official confirmed that there has been no Iraqi police presence in Tarmyia, a city of 25,000, since December.
The American outpost, located in the abandoned police headquarters in center of the town, was fortified by large blast walls.