- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 24, 2006

BAGHDAD — About 12,000 Iraqi policemen have been killed since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, the country’s interior minister said yesterday, as clashes, a suicide bombing and weekend explosions killed more than a dozen Iraqi officers and four American soldiers.

At a press conference in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani said that despite the thousands of police deaths, “when we call for new recruits, they come by the hundreds and by the thousands.”

Among the deaths yesterday were seven police officers killed when a suicide bomber hit a police station in Muqdadiyah, northeast of the capital. The bombing was followed by six mortar rounds. In Mosul, a drive-by shooting killed two policemen.

Though police have been targeted by insurgent attacks, they also have been blamed for violence. Gunmen in Iraqi army and police uniforms have been responsible for recent bank robberies in Baghdad and the kidnapping of more than 40 workers and volunteers at the Iraqi Red Crescent.

Mr. al-Bolani vowed to rid his ministry of rogue officers.

“We formed committees to clean and purge … to dismiss the bad elements from the ministry and build our institutions,” he said.

Five Iraqi officers died battling Shi’ite militiamen in a provincial capital in southern Iraq just months after British troops ceded control of the province to Iraqi security forces. Three days of fighting in Samawah, capital of the Muthana province, posed a challenge for the Iraqi forces, whose responsibilities are increasing as part of a U.S. plan to put more Iraqi provinces under local control.

Fighters linked to the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr fired rocket-propelled grenades at police headquarters and state buildings in Samawah, before government reinforcements arrived and a curfew fell on the city, police said. Masked gunmen lined rooftops.

Mr. al-Bolani sought to downplay three days of clashes in Samawah, which lies on the Euphrates River about 230 miles southeast of Baghdad.

“We know the [Iraqi] forces there can face these outlaw groups, but we want to tell the people that the government is present everywhere,” he said.

About 40 militia suspects were captured, a police official said.

Muthana was under the control of British forces until July, when it became the first province to revert to Iraqi control.

Three U.S. soldiers from the 89th Military Police Brigade were killed Saturday in east Baghdad when a roadside bomb detonated, the U.S. military said. A fourth soldier, assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, died Saturday in an explosion in Diyala, east of the Iraqi capital.

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