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But U.S. patrols can't be everywhere at all times, and Adhamiya offers the insurgency an abundance of targets and cover for attacks. The densely crowded district is an ideal setting for the new insurgent tactics that are evolving in the wake of the U.S.-led battle for Fallujah. Flushed from their hideouts in the Sunni triangle, many fighters have descended upon Baghdad and Mosul, taking with them a burning desire to avenge Fallujah and a style of fighting previously unseen in Iraq. The rebels, according to sources familiar with their operations, are no longer seeking small-town havens. By basing themselves in urban areas, they are more anonymous and can be relatively certain that U.S. forces won't launch massive offensive assaults, as they did in Fallujah. "We can't get into a shooting war ... inside the city," says Major General Peter Chiarelli, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, which guards the Iraqi capital. The rebels' new tactics suggest that Marine Lieut. General John Sattler perhaps spoke too soon last week when he boasted that his troops had "broken the back of the insurgency" by rolling up its Fallujah sanctuary.
Baghdad's Adhamiya got its first taste of this more brazen form of rebellion even as the Fallujah assault, Operation al-Fajr, was winding down. On the morning of Nov. 20, some 300 fighters attacked the district's main police station. For Colonel Khaled Hassan Abed, chief of the Iraqi police in Adhamiya, the sheer number of attackers revealed a change in the insurgents' tactics. In the past, rebel operations in Baghdad generally consisted of two or three attackers firing mortars from pickup trucks. The more deadly operations tended to involve explosives set off by remote control or by lone suicide bombers. The latest assault was different. "This was not a hit-and-run operation," says Abed. "These men came to fight face to face and to take over the station." It was also more sophisticated than earlier attacks, as evidenced by the ambush laid against U.S. troops racing in to help. "They knew exactly which streets we would be using, and they were waiting for us," says Stubbs. "The other side has stepped up its game."
In the end, however, the attack failed. After an initial standoff, U.S. forces were able to call in reinforcements and fight their way near the station to engage the main body of the attackers. Faced with overwhelming force, the insurgents melted away into the neighborhood, ready to fight another day. One American was killed, and several others were injured. Perhaps 30 of the insurgents were killed; the exact number can't be determined because they carried off many of their dead.
After the attack, Abed launched an investigation to gain insights into the nature of the new threat. Most of the attackers, he found, were from Fallujah but were led and guided by a small core of local insurgents. The attackers' objective, he concluded, was not just to inflict casualties but also to seize a high-visibility target. "They knew that even if they got into the station, we would eventually have killed them all," says Abed. "But they wanted to make a political statement: 'If you can take Fallujah, we can take your police stations.'"