Gunmen kill Iraqi police chief

Insurgents stepping up attacks on those who aid the occupation forces

April 04, 2004|By Vincent J. Schodolski | Vincent J. Schodolski,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

MAHMOUDIYA, Iraq - Gunmen killed an Iraqi police chief and two other police officials in two incidents yesterday in the latest example of attacks aimed at those cooperating with the U.S.-led coalition.

A 60-year-old bystander was killed in the second attack, witnesses said. Yesterday's violence came less than 24 hours after another police chief was slain in the town of Kufa, south of here.

Killed yesterday was Wisam Hussein, the 45-year-old police chief in Mahmoudiya, on the west side of the Tigris River, 20 miles south of Baghdad.

Officials said Hussein was returning to town from his home in the capital when gunmen fired on his car. The police chief and his driver were killed.

Later in the day, six armed men attacked a four-man police patrol in Mahmoudiya, killing one officer and wounding three.

Since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's government a year ago, about 350 Iraqi police have been killed.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have expressed fears that the anti-coalition violence could worsen in the run-up to the June 30 deadline for the Coalition Provisional Authority to turn over control of the country to a U.S.-appointed provisional government.

"There was no threat against him," said Abdul Moslem, a guard at the Mahmoudiya police headquarters, speaking about Wisam Hussein.

He said the chief was not well-known in the town because he was a resident of Baghdad and had no family ties to Mahmoudiya.

The town is inhabited by Sunni and Shiite Muslims and is on the road to the Shiite shrine in Karbala.

Yesterday, Shiite pilgrims walked through Mahmoudiya on their way to Karbala, about 50 miles away. They carried symbolic red, green and black flags and were headed for the shrine a week before the culmination of the Shiite holy period of Ashoura, a remembrance of the death of Imam Hussein, the most revered figure for Shiite Muslims.

Also yesterday, 5,000 supporters of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr marched through the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City and the center of the capital. Iraqi security forces and U.S. soldiers in several armored vehicles dispersed a smaller group of demonstrators after a tense confrontation.

The march was to protest the coalition decision to close Al Hawza, a weekly newspaper run by al-Sadr's supporters and accused by the U.S. military of inciting violence. They were also protesting the arrest by Spanish troops of a senior al-Sadr aide in Najaf, the protesters said.

Despite the dangers involved in being a police officer in Iraq, unemployed men continue to flock to the force in numbers greater than can be absorbed.

Yesterday clashes broke out between those unemployed men seeking police jobs and police in Basra.

In a separate incident, a roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. military convoy traveling near Baqouba. Witnesses said soldiers were injured, but a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad could not confirm that report.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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