Thursday, February 26, 2004

Iraqi Forces to Take on Security Role

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Retired Iraqi special forces Gen. Mudir Aboud greeted U.S. forces with a white flag when they rolled into Baghdad 10 months ago and told them where they could find Saddam Hussein's remaining fighters.

After months of U.S.-supervised training, Aboud on Wednesday took command of 6,800 Iraqi Civilian Defense Corps soldiers based in Baghdad. American officers say the new force will soon take over security duties in the capital as they reduce their presence here.

Apart from a few grumbles about his new rank — he is now a colonel — Aboud says he is proud to lead the force, but complains his men do not have enough tools to take on the insurgents, who are increasingly attacking local police and soldiers.

"We are still using old weapons from the Iraqi army," he said after a commissioning ceremony for him and eight other officers at 1st Armored Division Headquarters here. "We need better communication and transportation, and more training."

Officers here acknowledge that the force, which numbers around 25,000 countrywide, is under equipped, but say they plan to provide it with trucks, communication devices and better weapons soon. For now, its troops normally go on joint patrols with American soldiers.

The corps faces a daunting task battling the insurgents, who have mixed hit-and-run tactics with a series of devastating suicide bombings in cities around the country. American officers here believe that guerillas are a mix of loyalists to ex-leader Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida fighters that have infiltrated the country.

Coalition authorities started training the force in July. Around half of its members are ex-soldiers with the Iraqi army. They get paid a starting salary of around $140.

Since May 1, when President Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, 263 U.S. soldiers have been killed. Iraqi police and ICDC causalities are equally as high, American commanders estimate.

On June 30, the United States will formally end its occupation when it hands over power to an Iraqi interim authority. While coalition forces will still be in overall charge of security, U.S. commanders are eager to give the corps a front line role.

"For the past year, we have been leading from the front," said Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the 1st Armored Division, which is in charge of Baghdad. "Now we are reducing our footprint."

Both U.S. and Iraqi commanders claim that the attacks on Iraqi security forces — the latest of which killed seven police officers in Kirkuk on Monday — have not dented the numbers of people applying to join up.

Deputy Interior Minister Ahmed Kadhum Ibrahim, who is in charge of the Iraqi police force, said there was no shortage of recruits to the force, which coalition authorities are also funding.

"Many civilians are coming to join," he told The Associated Press recently in his office at the National Police Academy. "They want to fight for freedom."

As Ibrahim spoke, recruits could be heard practicing in the academy's firing range. Outside his office, a long line of people waited for application forms, apparently backing up his claim that people were wanting to join up.

"It's worth the danger because of the love for our country," said Noman Thabit, one of the hopefuls.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Double suicide bombings kill 8 in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Twin suicide vehicle-bomb attacks on a coalition base south of Baghdad on Wednesday morning killed eight Iraqis, U.S. military officials said, the latest in a series of bloody strikes harming civilians.

The attacks injured 44 people, including 12 coalition troops -- 10 Polish, one American and one Hungarian, officials said. The two bombers also died.

The attack happened at 7:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m. Tuesday ET) when a car loaded with explosives attempted to run a gate at Camp Charlie, a multinational coalition base in Hilla, Polish army Maj. Andrzej Wiatrowski said.

Soldiers fired on the vehicle, killing the driver. A truck following close behind ran into the first car, causing both to explode, he said.

Col. Gerardo Layug, a Filipino commander at the base, said he thinks the first car bomb was meant to clear the way for the second vehicle, with the aim of allowing the bomb-laden vehicle to penetrate the heart of the camp before exploding.

The base in Hilla, 60 miles (90 kilometers) south of Baghdad, is a former Iraqi police academy.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, in an overnight raid in Baqubah, U.S. forces and Iraqi police detained 22 people who were part of a group of anti-coalition insurgents, U.S. Army Col. William Adamson said.

Adamson said the military suspects that seven of the detainees have ties to al Qaeda and helped coordinate a mid-January suicide car bombing in Baqubah.

Wednesday's assault in Hilla follows insurgent attacks last week in Iskandariyah, Baghdad and Fallujah. Those strikes killed more than 125 people.

Elections report to be reviewed
The violence comes at a critical phase, as plans are negotiated for the U.S.-led coalition to turn political power over to the Iraqis at the end of June. The Iraq Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority are awaiting a United Nations report on whether direct elections before June 30 are possible.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will receive a draft of the report Wednesday night from his special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, and meet with him Thursday morning.

Brahimi just returned from Iraq and will discuss its future with more than 40 countries who are considered "friends of Iraq."

Brahimi is expected to say that direct elections are not possible by the planned June 30 transfer of power from the U.S.-led coalition to Iraqis. Diplomats and U.N. officials say Brahimi made that clear while touring Iraq. The bigger question, the diplomats said, is what alternatives there are to direct elections.

One diplomat indicated Brahimi will likely offer the most feasible date possible for direct elections, outlining the timing and different steps needed to get there. The diplomat said there are so many complex actions related to holding an election that it might take up to eight to 10 months to conduct a large-scale poll.

Brahimi's full set of written recommendations will be held for formal release pending Annan's approval, which is not expected to come before Friday.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the United States will do its best to accommodate Brahimi's suggestions.

Insurgent rewards increased
To quell the continuing violence, the U.S.-led coalition said Tuesday it is increasing the rewards it offers for the capture of the insurgents attacking coalition soldiers, Iraqi security personnel and civilians who work with the coalition.

The reward system puts targets into three categories, with different bounties for each, said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt.

The coalition will pay:

- $1 million for 10 outstanding members of what the coalition calls the "strategic blacklist," all of whom appear on the Pentagon's list of the 55 Most Wanted Iraqis.

- $200,000 for 11 former regime officials with regional responsibilities.

- $50,000 each for 20 local terror cell operatives.

Kimmitt also announced a $1 million reward for Mohammed Yunis, whom he described as a top insurgent. Coalition officials did not provide any more information about Yunis, except for a couple of aliases: Mohammed Yonis al Ahmed Al Moali and Khadr Al-Sabahi.

The more the military understands the insurgency's organizational structure, the more officials hear the same names, Kimmitt said.

"Those are the targets we're going after and that's one of the reasons we're raising the price for rewards," he said.

He said the insurgency does not appear to be controlled from a central point, but is rather more like a "series of cells with loose association between each other," he said.

Last week, the military announced $10 million rewards posted for top fugitives Ibrahim Izzat al-Douri and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Al-Douri, who was a member of the former ruling Baathist party's inner circle, is the highest ranking fugitive on the Iraqi 55 Most Wanted List, at No. 6.

Al-Zarqawi is an insurgent of Jordanian descent whom the military said most likely wrote a letter meant for al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan. The letter, obtained with the capture of an al Qaeda courier last month, claims responsibility for several terror attacks on the coalition in Iraq and calls for the fomenting of violence against Shiites to promote civil war.

The coalition paid a $1 million reward to an Iraqi who provided critical information that led to the arrest last month of Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, a Baath Party regional chairman for the Karbala governorate, Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor said.

Coalition officials said "significant security" is provided to people who have won rewards.

Other developments

- Mowaffak Al Rubaie, an Iraq Governing Council member, said Iraqis are working closely with Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. envoy who led the U.N. team, to determine an appropriate date and a formula for elections in Iraq. Al Rubaie said Wednesday Kurdish officials in northern Iraq have agreed to a plan that would govern the relationship between Kurds and the Baghdad government during the transitional period.

- Iraqi police are questioning five suspects in the September 2003 assassination of Iraq Governing Council member Akila Al-Hashimi, an Iraqi police official said Wednesday. They are being held at the Major Crime Unit office in Baghdad.

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