Rebels target Iraqi police, kill 4 officers and 9 recruits

Official says Iraqi forces won't be ready by June 30 to assume security duties

March 24, 2004|By Colin McMahon | Colin McMahon,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Guerrillas opened fire on a busload of police recruits south of Baghdad, killing nine, in the worst of several bloody attacks yesterday on Iraqis working with the U.S.-led occupation.

The drive-by shooting occurred about 7:30 a.m. as the trainees were heading to work in Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad. Gunmen shot and killed two Iraqi police officers and wounded two more in the northern city of Kirkuk. And in Mosul, also in the north, a mortar attack on an Iraqi base left two members of the Iraqi security forces dead and six wounded.

Early today, a rocket-propelled grenade hit the 13th floor of the Sheraton hotel in Baghdad, which houses foreign contractors and journalists, the Associated Press reported. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Across the Tigris River, sirens wailed briefly in the area housing the U.S.-led coalition headquarters.

A U.S. military spokesman said he had no information.

Officials of the U.S.-led coalition had predicted a surge in attacks on what the military calls "soft targets." With coalition troops proving more difficult to engage as they fortify their positions and adapt to enemy tactics, the guerrillas are increasingly targeting civilians and lightly armed Iraqi forces. And the violence is likely to get worse, officials say, with only 100 days left until Iraqi sovereignty is scheduled to be restored.

The insurgents' goals, officials say, are "to undermine coalition cohesion, intimidate the Iraqi Governing Council and demoralize coalition partners." Or as Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt put it, "to break our will as this country moves forward."

"I'm glad that the people of Iraq recognize that this is a planned policy of intimidation," Kimmitt, a spokesman for the coalition forces, said Monday.

With lawlessness the major concern before the June 30 handover, Iraq's interior minister acknowledged yesterday that Iraqi forces would not be ready by then to assume responsibility for security.

"There are many requirements that must be fulfilled before then, like equipment, security plans, the security apparatus to execute those plans, border controls," Minister Nori al-Badran told Reuters.

"Some of those requirements are partially fulfilled, others are not at all."

Al-Badran complained that U.S. forces do not adequately cooperate with Iraqi law enforcement, particularly on intelligence matters or the interrogation of suspects.

He warned that Iraq's religious and ethnic militias, which continue to operate despite being banned by the coalition, present a serious threat to Iraq's future stability.

"If we distribute the authority to use force, it will be very difficult to control the situation and it will lead to chaos," he said. "For some people, it's not in their interest to see a strong Interior Ministry. They want their militias to grow, and they see a strong Interior Ministry as a threat to that."

U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III sought yesterday to ease concerns expressed by Iraq's leading Shiite Muslim cleric that the interim constitution signed this month would become the primary basis for a permanent government charter.

"On what will be included in the permanent constitution, it will be decided by elected people and not the coalition," Bremer said in the holy city of Najaf, where he opened a refurbished electrical power plant.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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