BAGHDAD — At least 350 U.S.-trained Iraqi police officers have been killed in the past year, and rebel attacks one likely to increase before the coalition hands over sovereignty on June 30, U.S. military officials warned .
The latest American casualty was a soldier who died in an explosion north of Baghdad yesterday, and insurgents have struck police north and south of the capital this week. They killed two policemen who were twins, killed a provincial police chief and ambushed a van carrying police recruits, killing nine.
“We remain concerned at what is clearly a program of intimidation and targeting of not only the Iraqi police service, but all Iraqi government officials,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the U.S. military’s deputy director of operations. “A significant number of Iraqi police have been killed in the past year, somewhere in the order of 350.”
He said that despite the attacks “on almost a daily basis,” morale in the Iraqi force remained high and there had been no significant drop in recruitment or retention rates.
About 200,000 Iraqis are serving in the country’s security forces, which include an army, police, border guards and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, or ICDC. Insurgents view them as collaborators with the U.S.-led occupation, and they often make easier targets because they are less well-armed and protected than U.S. troops.
Insurgents “know that police are the authority, force and law, and for this reason they carry out these acts,” said Nouri Jaber al-Nouri, inspector general of the Interior Ministry. Suicide bombers also have targeted police stations, and the bombing of an army recruiting center in Baghdad in February killed 47 persons.
Although U.S. troops will remain in Iraq after the June 30 transfer of sovereignty to a transitional government, the coalition wants Iraqi security forces to assume a bigger role in the fight against an insurgency that has claimed hundreds of American lives.
As of yesterday, nearly 600 U.S. service members had died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq a year ago, according to the Department of Defense. Of those, about two-thirds have died as a result of hostile action.
Yesterday, a 1st Infantry Division soldier died and two were wounded when a bomb exploded near Baqouba, the military said. The soldiers went to the area after ICDC forces notified them that a homemade bomb had been found.
In Fallujah, west of Baghdad, insurgents attacked a U.S. military convoy, and television footage showed an empty Humvee in flames. One Iraqi driver in a civilian car was killed in the cross fire.
With fewer than 100 days until the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority hands over power to Iraqis, U.S. and Iraqi officials expect insurgents to step up attacks to undermine the fledgling Iraqi government.