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Suicide bombings targeting Iraqi police reinforces mission

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Monday's suicide car bombers targeted four police stations in north, south, east and west Baghdad, killing eight Iraqi police officers and injuring at least 65 other officers just as their patrols in the capital began to form an essential part of the U.S. plan to restore order in postwar Iraq.

"The threats are always against us because we are working with the Americans," said Mohammed Kadhim, 25, who was helping conduct roll call on the second floor of a police station when he was thrown to the wall by an 8:45 a.m. blast that left a 9-foot crater in front of the station. He managed to get up and run.

Just as Sunday's attack on a hotel full of senior coalition officials prompted declarations by U.S. authorities that they wouldn't waver in their mission, Monday's carefully planned attacks on three police stations and the international Red Cross headquarters made many Iraqi police officers more determined.

U.S.-led coalition officials have been training Iraqi police officers so that they can take greater responsibilities for their nation's security. Many Iraqi officers are just beginning to graduate from U.S.-led training sessions and to patrol neighborhoods in force. They were deployed in highly visible teams on the eve of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting and family gatherings, which began Monday.

In all, 35 people were killed and 230 were wounded in Monday's attacks on the three police stations and the international Red Cross office. Police foiled an attempted bombing at a fourth police station.

"These are terrorist operations against the police stations," Kadhim said at Yarmouk Hospital, where he lay in bed with wounds from the bombing. "They think they will be martyred during Ramadan because they are attacking us for working with the Americans, but there is nothing that will stop us from doing our duty. This is only the beginning, and we are expecting it to get worse."

One floor up, Maj. Ahmed Saleh Ibrahim, 41, an engineer with the Civil Defense Force, lay on his back while his four tearful children, ages 4 to 13, rushed to his side and kissed his cheek. His injuries were the result of flying glass and weren't life-threatening.

"I don't have any idea what the next target will be. I was frightened at the beginning, but right now I want to complete my job," Ibrahim said as his wife, Nidhal Abud, 38, looked on.

"I am afraid for him if he goes back to work," she said.

Ibrahim was in the Civil Defense Force offices next to the al Khadra police station when a suicide bomber tried to drive into the station at 9:20 a.m. Monday. The driver was stopped by a row of dirt barriers and concertina wire and detonated the bomb in the street, killing at least three civilians.

Some police stations have a heavy American presence, but the al Khadra station had only a squad of six or seven American military police who had not yet withdrawn from providing security and training, said Lt. Col. Eric Nantz with the 1st Battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment.

There are 30,000 to 37,000 police officers in Iraq, including about 14,000 for Baghdad's 5 million residents. Coalition officials have said they want to increase the police force by at least 25,000 people, but it's not clear where the additional officers will come from. Many senior members of the former police force have been banned from returning because of human rights abuses or Baath Party connections.

Critics, including former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik who was hired to help build the Iraqi police force, have said Iraqi police need training to overcome years of corruption.

But Iraqi police often complain that the Americans don't understand them, don't listen and fail to provide crucial equipment, such as guns, radios and protective body armor. Police in Sadr City, Iraq, a Shiite slum, have had to use taxis to transport suspects after their cars were requisitioned by another department.

In addition to the police, the Iraqi Civil Defense Force has about 1,200 members. They help with various tasks, including guarding embassies and monuments and disposing of unexploded ordnance.

At the police station where the Baya'a Police Department and the Dawra Patrol have offices, at least three people were killed and nearly 20 were wounded, mostly Iraqi police.

"This is an attack against the Iraqi people as much as it is against the coalition forces," said Sgt. Brent M. Williams, a spokesman with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division, attached to the 1st Armored Division.

On Monday night, seven Iraqi police guarding the double-decker bridge over the Tigris River that leads to Baghdad's Dawra neighborhood were somewhat jumpy.

"I stand here and someone with a weapon, if he wants to shoot me, I don't have a bulletproof vest," said Capt. Hamid Majeed, 51, who was armed with an old Kalashnikov rifle and a 9 mm pistol. "But I must fight all the criminals that want to take something from this country."

Majeed normally works with the emergency police in Sadr City. He has lost friends and colleagues in the Oct. 9 suicide bombing at the Sadr City police station. "Between me and death, it's only seconds. But we all work together, we are the same hand. We need to save this country and help this country."


(Fan reports for the San Jose Mercury News.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): usiraq+police