Robert Fisk – The Independent July 29, 2004
Yet again, the Iraqi police – and their hordes of impoverished recruits – were massacred yesterday, up to 70 of them in the Sunni Muslim city of Baquba as they lined up, unprotected along a boulevard in the hope of finding work.
The bomber – identity, as usual, unknown – drove his Renault car into a mass of 600 unemployed young men looking for jobs in the police force, detonated his explosives and cut them to pieces. The bomb left a seven foot hole in the road and wounded at least another 150 men and women, many of them shopping in the market.
The pattern is familiar and the American appointed Iraqi authorities, who have little control over Baquba, appear powerless to prevent such attacks. The police station there was surrounded by vast concrete blast walls but there had been so many men arriving at 8am to seek recruitment – the bomber, of course, would have known the time to strike – that police officers ordered many of them to queue along the open dual carriageway outside.
It was a death sentence. For more than three hours, medical workers and rescue staff were picking up body parts from the road and from burnt-out cars and buses.
Only two weeks ago, a suicide bomber blew himself up at another recruiting centre, this time for the new Iraqi army in Mahmudiyah, and on 17 June, yet another bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into a crowd of men hoping to join the police at another recruitment building, killing 35 men.
The police are now in the firing line but America’s own hopes of lessening their own casualties by putting them there do not appear to be bearing out.
Yet another American soldier, from the 1st Infantry Division, was killed on Tuesday night when a roadside bomb blew up beneath his Humvee vehicle, wounding three other US personnel. He was the 904th American soldier to be killed since the invasion of Iraq began.
Police stations are themselves little fortresses in the besieged towns and cities of Iraq. When I visited the Amariya serious crimes squad headquarters of the Iraqi police in Baghdad yesterday, I found five nervous cops standing on duty outside, next to seven black banners commemorating seven police officers who have been killed in just the past six weeks.
Another banner, commemorating the murder of a police lieutenant colonel in the organised crime branch, whose vehicle was hit in Baghdad by a rocket-propelled grenade, hung over the main door of the station. The cops at the gate were joking about whether they would go to heaven or hell if they were killed.
I sat with them for several minutes. Watching the approach of cars, it seems, concentrates the mind wonderfully. The most optimistic response I could find inside the station came from a police colonel: “I cannot say that things are getting better,” he said.
A mysterious battle between police and insurgents – with American and Ukrainian troops alongside the police – left seven more policemen dead and, according to the authorities, 35 insurgents killed, with many others taken prisoner at Souweya, near Kut-al-Imara yesterday.
So dangerous is Iraq now that yet again no Western reporters dared to travel to the location and it was unclear whether the gunmen were Sunni insurgents or members of the Shia Army of Mehdi of Muqtada Sadr, although this seems unlikely. US forces and Sadr’s men are maintaining a ceasefire in Najf and, though Souweya is a Shia town, it has not previously been the scene of any violent clashes.
Yet many of the individual Iraqi tragedies simply go unrecorded. Only yesterday, for example, did a single Iraqi newspaper report the killing pf almost an entire family at Latefiya last Friday. Ala’a Hussein and his wife, Dekrayat, had been returning to Baghdad after attending the funeral of a relative at Najaf, with his sister-in-law, Leila Zechi, her husband, Othman, and their two daughters, Estabraket, 9, and Nada, 6. They were driving in the family’s Land Cruiser, a vehicle often used by Western mercenaries.
As Mr Hussein drove through the city, he was overtaken by a pick-up truck filled with gunmen who opened fire with automatic weapons for more than a minute. All save Othamn Zechi were killed instantly.
Last updated 01/08/2004