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Iraqi police protest presence of troops as attacks continue

Friday, July 11, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- With daily shootings and rocket attacks against U.S. soldiers claiming two more lives, even Iraqi policemen said Thursday they want to keep a safe distance from coalition troops for fear of getting caught in the crossfire.

Several dozen Iraqi police, most wearing new uniforms provided by the U.S. military, marched on the mayor's office in Fallujah, a restive town west of Baghdad, insisting American soldiers stop using their station as a base. The Iraqis said they would quit their posts if the soldiers don't find a new home within 48 hours.

Also Thursday, the U.S. military announced several new attacks.

An American soldier was shot and killed near the city of Mahmudiyah, 15 miles south of Baghdad, on Wednesday evening.

Another soldier was killed and one wounded Wednesday in a rocket-propelled grenade assault on a five-vehicle convoy near Baqouba, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, said Lt. Col. Bill MacDonald of the Army's 4th Infantry Division.

In the city of Ramadi, 60 miles west of the capital, three separate overnight mortar attacks targeted U.S. servicemen, but there were no reports of casualties, the military said.

The military also said a soldier died Wednesday in Balad from what it described as a non-hostile gunshot incident. There were no further details.

Another American soldier stationed near Balad, 55 miles north of the capital, died of a non-hostile gunshot wound Monday; soldiers at a nearby air base said he took his own life.

31 killed

Since President Bush declared major combat operations had ended on May 1, at least 31 U.S. soldiers have been killed by hostile fire and 46 others have died in accidents and other non-hostile circumstances, a total of 77.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, said the Iraqi police in Fallujah have every right to protest in Iraq's emerging democracy, but he insisted American forces would not leave the police station.

He said that if the Iraqis follow through with their threat, "we'll find some more" police to patrol the city.

The fears of the Fallujah police are not without foundation.

Insurgents fired two rocket-propelled grenades at American troops in the city Wednesday, causing no casualties. And an explosion Saturday at a police graduation ceremony in Ramadi, 28 miles west of Fallujah, killed seven U.S.-trained recruits.

On June 24, protesters in the southern city of Majar al-Kabir stormed a police station after British troops fired on protesters. Four British soldiers died in the attack on the station, and two others were killed in a clash near the mayor's office.

Fallujah has seen several deadly attacks on American and Iraqi forces since U.S. troops killed 20 protesters in late April.

Attacks by pro-Saddam Hussein insurgents in recent weeks have threatened to drag Iraq's American and British occupiers into a military and political quagmire. The U.S. military insists the resistance does not amount to a full-fledged guerrilla war, and say they have no evidence it is being coordinated on a nationwide level.

The military acknowledges, however, that the continued uncertainty over Saddam's fate has fueled the rebels. Saddam has not been seen since the overthrow of his regime in April, though tapes purportedly of the ousted dictator have been aired on Arabic television since then. American officials are offering $25 million for information leading to the arrest of Saddam, and $15 million for each of his sons Qusai and Odai.

Most of the attacks have taken place north and west of Baghdad called the "Sunni Triangle," a region known as a stronghold of Saddam supporters, although many residents deny that the former dictator, also a Sunni Muslim, still has followers among them. Fallujah, Ramadi and Baqouba are all within the triangle.

Life of crime

The attacks, as well as sabotage against Iraqi infrastructure, have stymied efforts to return security and vital services to the country. At night gangs roam darkened streets, and killings and carjackings occur in broad daylight.

Sanchez disputed complaints that Baghdad's crime rate was out of control, saying it "is no worse than any American city."

Coalition authorities said Thursday they expect it to cost $1.7 billion over five years to revamp Iraq's dilapidated power industry. Lack of electricity -- and air conditioning -- in Baghdad has raised frustration, with the city suffering through temperatures up to 122 degrees.

Also Thursday, the military announced that U.S. forces had seized 12 Iraqi artifacts allegedly looted from the National Museum in Baghdad. The pieces included miniature statues, a skull and a clay bowl, all from about 3,200 B.C.-3,000 B.C. The artifacts were found wrapped in a rice bag in a raid on a Baghdad residence on Monday.


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