33 INSURGENTS FREED – in daring raid near Baquba

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Iraqi insurgents freed 33 of their comrades in a daring pre-dawn raid on a puppet authority jail north of Baghdad yesterday.

At least 18 puppet Iraqi police officers and a courthouse guard were killed in a fierce battle during the half-hour raid, which targeted a compound consisting of the main police station, the courthouse and municipal offices in Muqdadiyah, near Baquba, about 90km northeast of the capital.

As many as 100 insurgents, armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, stormed the judicial compound.

The assault began after the attackers fired a mortar round into the complex, said Iraqi police Brigadier Ali al-Jabouri.

The large insurgent force arrived in cars and pick-up trucks at about 5.45am and opened fire, destroying some 20 police cars and setting part of the municipal offices on fire.

The attackers, who escaped after the raid into neighbouring orchards, also set booby-traps along roads leading into the town, to ambush government reinforcements.

Those caught in the ambush included a police commando who was killed and another who was wounded when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb.

The US military also reported that some of their troops were ambushed while en route to the town, without mentioning any casualties.

US helicopters pursued the retreating insurgents and attacked them in the orchards on the outskirts of the town, Iraqi security officials said.

US reconnaissance aircraft circled the area afterwards.

‘Aerial reconnaissance teams confirmed the building was damaged and vehicles outside were burnt after being targeted with several rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire,’ Sergeant Doug Anderson told reporters.