Iraq security plan offered

U.S. wants better Iraqi police forces

parliament leader says he might quit


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. military officials unveiled yesterday a plan to combat chronic problems with renegade Iraqi security forces by creating Iraqi-led inspection boards and standardized uniforms.

The boards will conduct battalion-level reviews of police leadership and accountability systems, said Maj. Gen. Joe Peterson, the top U.S. police trainer in Iraq. Battalions will be judged on how well they can track weapons and vehicles - a response to widespread diversion of equipment for criminal activities.

Also yesterday, the speaker of parliament said he might step down because of bitter enmity from Kurdish and Shiite political blocs, revealing the first major crack in Iraq's fragile unity government since it was formed nearly three months ago. Mahmoud al-Mashhadani is the third-ranking official in Iraq and a conservative Sunni Arab. Shiite and Kurdish legislators have banded together to try to push him out, mainly because he is considered too radical.

Since taking office in late May, al-Mashhadani has praised the Sunni insurgency, called the Americans "butchers" and denounced the idea of carving up Iraq into autonomous regions, which the Kurds and some Shiites strongly support.

U.S. officials hope that distinctive new uniforms and standardized vehicle markings will make it harder for police to run afoul of the law, or for criminals to impersonate police, Peterson said.

The plan is an acknowledgment by the U.S. military that neither they nor the Interior Ministry has full confidence in, or control of, Iraq's police forces, which have been accused of operating death squads and kidnapping rings.

"It appears that there are some individuals who have joined the ranks of the Ministry of Interior forces [who] still have allegiances and are in fact working with their militias," Peterson said.

But he acknowledged that the plan would leave large security forces unaccountable, including the 140,000-strong Facilities Protection Service, which is assigned to Iraq's governmental institutions. Those officers wear uniforms and drive vehicles similar to Interior Ministry forces, but are unaccountable to the police, the army or the U.S. military.

Peterson also acknowledged that up to half of Fallujah's 1,700-strong police force failed to report to work earlier this month, amid reports that insurgents had threatened to kill anyone reporting for duty.

Some reports indicated that all but 100 of the officers failed to report for work.

Peterson discounted reports of intimidation, saying the officers stayed home to protest a local Iraqi judge's early release of insurgents this week, but have since returned to their jobs.

U.S. military and Iraqi accounts on a series of explosions Sunday in Baghdad's Zafaraniya neighborhood also differed. Interior Ministry officials stood by reports that Sunni insurgent attacks were to blame for explosions that killed 58 people, injured 148, and destroyed three buildings and 23 cars in a predominantly Shiite area.

But Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman, said yesterday that the blasts were caused by "an internal gas explosion that set off a series of other explosions." He said there was no evidence that insurgents were involved.

Caldwell reiterated assertions by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad that Iranian agitators are playing a divisive role in Iraq.

"We do in fact have evidence that weapons, munitions that post-date the time period in which Saddam [Hussein] was removed from power have been found here in Iraq that were of Iranian origin," Caldwell said. "We do know that Shiite extremist groups have received training through some sort of third element associated with Iran. We do know that weapons have been provided and IED technology has been made available to these extremist elements." But Caldwell stopped short of accusing the Iranian government of having direct involvement in attacks against Iraqi or U.S. forces.

In Ramadi, where Marines are staging a major operation, Iraqi residents said they saw a roadside bomb destroy an American Humvee. Four U.S. soldiers died in a firefight that followed the explosion, residents said. The U.S. military would not confirm the report.

In the northern oil hub of Kirkuk, gunmen killed Sheik Badr Hashim Hajim, a Sunni Arab tribal chief.

Mohammed Khalil, a Sunni member of the Kirkuk governorate council said the targeting of tribal sheiks has increased. Abdul Razaq Niama, a Sunni Arab politician, was assassinated this month.

Sunni Arabs are a minority in the predominantly Kurdish city, which also has significant Turkomen and Shiite populations. Hajim and Niama migrated to Kirkuk under a Hussein-era ethnic cleansing program aimed at ridding the city of Kurds. Since 2003, Kurdish refugees have been moving back to the city in droves.

In Baqouba, 25 miles north of Baghdad, a roadside bomb killed two motorists and injured three. In Baghdad, two car bombs killed three Iraqis.

In Basra, demonstrators protested persistent electricity blackouts in triple-digit temperatures. The protesters burned tires and clashed with police. Residents said ambulance sirens could be heard throughout the city.

Solomon Moore writes for the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times contributed to this article.

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