BAGHDAD, Iraq—The Iraqi government has pulled an entire national police brigade of about 700 officers out of Baghdad because so many of its members appeared to be involved in sectarian killings, the U.S. military said Wednesday.
Removing the brigade would immediately improve security in the city, said Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad. Caldwell also said that a weekend curfew had helped reduce the number of dead Iraqis discovered throughout Baghdad this week.
But U.S. fatalities in Baghdad have remained high, with 18 American soldiers killed since Saturday, Caldwell said. Eight of them died on Monday—the highest single-day death toll in more than a year.
Last week also set a record for the number of car bombs and roadside bombs that exploded or were disarmed, Caldwell said. He declined to provide precise numbers, however.
At least 12 people were killed and 70 injured on Wednesday when two roadside bombs exploded in southeast Baghdad as a convoy from the Ministry of Industry passed by. As emergency workers rushed to the area, a second bomb detonated. Three of the dead were guards for the industry minister, but the minister wasn't in the convoy at the time.
In Diyala Province, gunmen going door to door with gasoline containers burned down 22 houses in the past two days, police said. The latest seven to be torched were in Abu Seda village, where the bodies of seven members of the same family were also found Wednesday morning.
Caldwell said Iraqi officials ordered the police brigade from Baghdad after 26 workers, most of them Sunni Muslims, were kidnapped Sunday from a meat-packing plant in a neighborhood the brigade was supposed to be protecting. The next day, uniformed gunmen driving what appeared to be government trucks kidnapped 14 people from a shopping district that specialized in computers.
Sunnis long have claimed that security forces laced with members of Shiite Muslim militias are responsible for many of the killings and kidnappings that have become rampant in this city. About 100 Sunnis demonstrated Wednesday in the neighborhood where the meat plant was located, carrying signs saying that the security forces should leave.
Caldwell said it was clear that officers from the unit, the 8th Brigade, 2nd National Police Division, had turned a blind eye to the death squads operating with their force. In some cases, he said, the brigade let killers move freely in the neighborhoods. The brigade also may have been slow intentionally to investigate reports of the killings and kidnappings.
Some of the officers are now subjects of investigations, Caldwell said.
Iraqi leaders made the decision late Tuesday night to order the unit shipped out for "retraining," and on Wednesday the brigade was taken to a training camp north of the city, Caldwell said. The police officers would be thoroughly questioned, given lie detector tests and their criminal histories checked.
Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf, a spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, which oversees the police, said the brigade's commander had been detained for questioning.
Caldwell said that the decision to withdraw the unit was initiated by the Iraqis, but that U.S. troops first detected problems in September during a routine evaluation of each of the country's 27 national police brigades. That evaluation included checks of the units' equipment and interviews with residents in the neighborhoods they patrolled.
Coalition forces also announced Wednesday that they'd captured a former driver and personal assistant of the al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al Masri, along with 31 others during a series of raids on Sept. 28. He was the second Masri associate captured in September.
(McClatchy special correspondents Zaineb Obeid and Mohammad al Awsy contributed to this story.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.