BAGHDAD — Iraqi security forces on Sunday battled gunmen who detonated a car bomb before blasting their way into a government compound and killing seven police officers in a one-time Sunni insurgent hotbed, police and local government officials said.
The three-hour standoff between Shiite-dominated security forces and suspected Sunni insurgents in the Anbar province capital of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, marked the first serious gun battle for Iraqi forces against insurgents without American backup since the U.S. military completed its withdrawal last month.
Sadoun Obaid al-Jumaily, deputy president of the Anbar Provincial Council, said the gunmen were trying to free colleagues who were recently detained.
He and other Iraqi officials said seven police officers were killed and 13 others were wounded. The five attackers also were killed, the officials said. Officials at Ramadi's main hospital confirmed the death toll.
The attacks were the latest in a wave of violence in Iraq. On Saturday, an attack on Shiite pilgrims in the southern city of Basra killed at least 53 people.
On Jan. 5, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest in a crowd of pilgrims near the city of Nasiriya, just north of Basra, killing 44.
More than 145 people have been killed in attacks since the start of the year.
Iraq also was plunged into a political crisis after the Shiite-dominated government charged Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi with running death squads, issuing an arrest warrant against him just as the last U.S. soldiers crossed into neighboring Kuwait.
On Sunday, a court in Baghdad ruled that al-Hashemi must stand trial on terror charges in Baghdad, rejecting his request to be tried in the ethnically mixed city in Kirkuk. He has fled to the autonomous Kurdish region, out of reach of authorities in Baghdad. He believes he could get a fair trial in Kirkuk but would be in danger in Baghdad.
Al-Hashemi's Iraqiya party has boycotted parliament and Cabinet sessions since last month to protest what it sees as efforts by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to consolidate power, particularly over state security forces.
The sectarian crisis in the government and the spike in attacks has raised concerns Iraq could return to sectarian bloodshed that killed tens of thousands of civilians after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and brought the country to the brink of civil war.