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Al Qaeda in Iraq targets Baghdad’s developing police force

The Iraqi Army is gradually handing responsibility for Baghdad security to Iraq's developing police force – a transition Al Qaeda in Iraq is exploiting with increased attacks.

By Jane ArrafCorrespondent / August 12, 2010

A policeman directs traffic in central Baghdad August 9. Iraq is arming some of its traffic police in the capital with AK-47 assault rifles after two dozen of the "easy targets" have been killed and wounded recently in militant assaults, authorities said.

Saad Shalash/Reuters

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Baghdad

As US combat forces leave the country, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) appears to be creeping back into the Iraqi capital in a bold campaign of shootings, bombings, and intimidation focusing on undermining Baghdad’s developing police force.

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Almost daily attacks on police and traffic police in Baghdad and Anbar Province west of the capital in the past two weeks have killed almost 30 police.

US military officials say those attacks have increased as the Iraqi police have taken more responsibility from the Iraqi Army in – a move eventually intended to allow Iraqi soldiers to move out of the cities and defend Iraq’s borders.

“It’s certainly about intimidation of the population and the police and certainly about Al Qaeda trying to reassert themselves in areas where they’ve been limited in freedom of movement,” said Maj. Gen. Steve Lanza, spokesman for US forces in Iraq.

Lanza said that the fact that security forces have remained at their posts during the attacks, unlike during the height of the insurgency when they commonly abandoned them, was evidence of a maturing Iraqi police force and Iraqi Army.

By next week, all of the US combat troops currently in Iraq are due to have left ahead of a Sept. 1 deadline in the US-Iraq security agreement. The focus of US and Iraqi officials though is on keeping some of the remaining 50,000 US forces here after a deadline of the end of next year.

On Wednesday, a senior Iraqi military leader, Gen. Babaker Zubari, stated publicly what most Iraqi officials say more privately – that he believed there would need to be a continuing US presence here after 2011. Under current plans to expand Iraq’s armed forces, destroyed and dismantled by the US in the war, Iraq will not have the capability to secure its land borders and air space for almost another decade.

30 gunmen attacked four checkpoints simultaneously

Along a main road in Baghdad's largely Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya, presumed AQI fighters blazed a trail of destruction at the end of July – laying roadside bombs, fatally shooting police and soldiers at three checkpoints, and then setting fire to bodies before leaving an Al Qaeda-linked flag, according to witnesses and officials.

“There were about 30 gunmen – they attacked all four checkpoints at the same time, says policeman Dhia Kuthayar of the mid-afternoon attack. “I called in for reinforcements – our orders were not to move from our post. If I had been able to kill just one of them, I would have – even if I had to die doing it.”

The Adhamiya attack was followed by another at a checkpoint in the West Baghdad neighborhood of Mansour, formerly the diplomatic district, which killed five police after gunmen with silencers opened fire. Witnesses said they left a black flag of the self-declared Islamic State of Iraq, an AQI-affiliated group, at the scene.

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