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Iraq: Despite Attacks, Police Urge U.S. Authorities To Give Them Greater Security Role

Iraqi police officers say they will not be intimidated by a series of deadly attacks directed against them in recent days. Instead, they are urging the U.S.-led administration to give them more responsibility for introducing law and order in the country. They believe they can do so more quickly than U.S. forces -- and with the support of ordinary Iraqis.

Baghdad, 24 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- On 22 November, suicide car bombers struck two police stations north of Baghdad. At least 17 people are reported to have been killed, including two children, in attacks in Khan Bani Saad and Baquba.

Also on 22 November, a senior Iraqi police officer in the northern city of Mosul was shot and killed while heading to a mosque. Yesterday, gunmen killed the Iraqi police chief of Latifiyah, south of Baghdad, along with his bodyguard and driver.

Despite the increased frequency of such attacks, Iraqi police officers say they will not be intimidated and are ready to introduce law and order if only the Coalition Provisional Authority would give them the opportunity.

Najim Abd al-Wahed has worked as a traffic cop in Baghdad for 25 years. He said the weekend attacks were "cowardly." He says Iraqi police serve the Iraqi people and in no way should be treated as targets.

Iraqi police Sergeant Najim Abdullah says it is not easy to wear a police uniform on the streets of Baghdad nowadays. "There is no security. It is not safe, and I am scared. I can be hit by a rocket or by a car bomb at any moment," he said. "Yes, yes. I don't feel comfortable at my work." Despite the dangers, however, Abdullah says he is not considering the idea of leaving the police force.

Many residents of Baghdad seem to support the police force. Salah Muhsem, a man in his early 40s, says the 22 November attacks were cowardly terrorist acts directed against the Iraqi people. "It was a cowardly act," he said. "It was cowardly and disgraceful because it targeted innocent people who were not guilty and didn't have anything to do with all that has happened."

Another Baghdad resident, Muhammad Abdul Rahman, also condemned the attacks. He believes Saddam Hussein loyalists could be behind them, noting that a week ago the former president -- in an audiotape broadcast by some Arabic news channels -- urged insurgents to fight against those Iraqis who are cooperating with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).

But Rahman said that "killing innocent people will not help the former dictator." "Saddam is over and his time is over and everything should be changed," he said. "Saddam is now doing what he wants. But for me, I hope, he will be stopped and all his gang will be stopped." Rahman says Saddam doesn't retain enough influence or power to fulfill his threats against Iraqis cooperating with the U.S.

Meanwhile, senior police officers say Iraqi police are capable of stopping the terrorist attacks if given a chance by coalition authorities.

Lieutenant Hussein Abbas works at Baghdad's Al-Kharkh police station, which is located near the headquarters of U.S. troops based in the country. He says U.S. forces are not capable of stopping the attacks because the country is alien to them. He says Iraqi policemen -- many of whom have 15 or 20 years of experience -- know the people and the local situation much better than the Americans ever will. "Do [the Americans] know more than we do? I can tell [that this person] is an Iraqi, this one is a Syrian, that one is a Lebanese," he said. "The Americans do not know [that]."

He says Iraqi police, if given the opportunity, would start by introducing order in the capital. Abbas says police would control all of Baghdad's roads and check people coming into and out of the capital. He says that in the current extreme conditions, every district of Baghdad should be strictly controlled. "After we have checkpoints on most of the streets," Abbas said, "we would set up a police intelligence service. We still have informants from the past, and we will be able to know what is going on in any corner of Baghdad."

He says the police have urged the U.S. administration to support the idea, but to no avail. Abbas says further delay is dangerous in that the resistance will be allowed more time to organize and plan new attacks.

However, Abbas noted that Iraqi police have not been trained to deal with bombs. "I am a police officer who has served several years in the police, but I will not be able to deal with an explosive device," Abbas said. But he hopes that police could do advance work to prevent bombings from being planned in the first place.

Abbas says the CPA is trying to help the police but that sometimes this help is unacceptable. "The Americans are sending to us young [Iraqi] men who underwent short training courses to work as police officers," he said. "Honestly, we are not satisfied with their work because they were brought from the streets to the police force. The youngsters do not have instincts. They do not know how to handle situations."

He says he knows nothing about the backgrounds of these new recruits. "Maybe he is a thief or an informant for the resistance," he said, noting that new recruits make up 30 percent of the force at the Al-Kharkh police station.