BAGHDAD - Lt. Col. Shamil al-Jabouri knew al-Qaeda in Iraq wanted him dead. The police commander was renowned in the tense northern city of Mosul for his relentless pursuit of the terror group, and insurgents had tried at least five times to kill him for it.
On the sixth attempt, extremists left little to chance.
As Jabouri slept Wednesday morning on a couch in his office, three men wearing police uniforms over vests laden with explosives slipped through an opening in the blast walls surrounding the compound where his building stood, police said.
Police manning one of at least four observation towers surrounding the compound shot one of the attackers in a yard and his vest exploded. Under the cover of that blast, police said, the two other suicide bombers charged about 100 yards and made it into Jabouri's single-story building.
They detonated their vests simultaneously - one at the door of Jabouri's office - killing the commander instantly and injuring a policeman sleeping in a trailer nearby. The two blasts brought the whole building down, burying the slain commander under the rubble, police said.
The attack on the commander responsible for hunting al-Qaeda in Mosul - a former extremist stronghold - was a reminder of the significant gaps in Iraqi security, the challenges the new government will face in trying to close them, and the lengths that insurgents will go to take out people they perceive as threats.
Just 10 days ago, Jabouri led a raid that ended in the death of the top al-Qaeda in Iraq figure in Mosul, his colleagues said. And two months ago he had been instrumental in stopping a gang that had been targeting jewelry stores in the city - robberies that are frequently ways for extremist groups to refill their coffers.
"We've lost a sword of Mosul who chased al-Qaeda terrorists out of the city," said Abdul-Raheem al-Shemeri, a top security official on the Mosul Provincial Council.
An al-Qaeda in Iraq affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq, took responsibility in a statement posted on the Internet. It said that Jabouri had been targeted several times before but had not been deterred.
"This day was the decisive one," the group said.
According to the extremists' statement, the attackers were dressed in police uniforms, which likely helped them get close to the compound - an abandoned soccer stadium - without raising suspicion.
U.S. Maj. Erik Peterson worked with Jabouri as Iraqi police were taking over security from the Iraqi army for the western half of the city, an operation that began last summer.
"He was a legend in the police force," Peterson said. "Every time you would go to visit him, he already had someone new he was looking for or had just arrested."
Peterson said that by killing officials like Jabouri, al-Qaeda is trying to instill fear into the local population.
Extremists had tried to kill Jabouri at least five times before, police officials said. A few months ago, Jabouri's guards shot a suicide bomber who approached the commander in an attempt to blow himself up, police said.
Hospital officials in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, confirmed the death and said that at least one policeman was injured.
Rescuers worked frantically to clear the rubble of the collapsed building but found no others dead, probably because the attack occurred in darkness about 6 a.m., before most people had arrived for work.
Jabouri leaves behind a wife and four children. He had been a police officer since 2003. Three of his brothers also serve in the police force, colleagues said.
Al-Qaeda-linked extremists across the country, and especially in Mosul, have made wiping out Iraqi security officials one of their main goals, in part to intimidate others from joining the security forces. Suicide bombers have been al-Qaeda in Iraq's most lethal weapon, killing hundreds of civilians and members of the security forces.
A British group monitoring Iraqi civilian deaths said
in its annual report that
the number had dropped slightly since 2009, but it warned of a lingering, low-level conflict in the years ahead.
The group, Iraq Body Count, said in its report Thursday that 3,976 civilians had been killed this year as of Dec. 25, compared with 4,680 in 2009.
Although the toll dropped,
it said, the rate of decline was smaller than in previous years, indicating that future security improvements would be much harder to come by.
Iraq Body Count is believed to be the only nongovernmental group to have consistently recorded Iraqi civilian casualties since the war began in 2003. It includes civilians and police, but not deaths of U.S. forces, Iraqi forces engaged in fighting the insurgency, or insurgents.
Casualty figures in the U.S.-led war in Iraq have been a hotly disputed topic. Critics on each side accuse the other of manipulating the death toll to sway public opinion.
- Associated Press