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Dozens of Iraqi Police Still Missing Days After Night Ambush

Kirk Semple, The New York Times

Sunday 16 April 2006

Baghdad, Iraq - Dozens of Iraqi police officers caught in a deadly ambush north of Baghdad on Thursday were still missing on Saturday, and their colleagues feared that some had been captured by insurgents or killed, police officials said.

The American military command said 9 police officers were killed and 7 wounded in the attack, which began after nightfall as a convoy of more than 100 police officers was returning to Najaf from an American base in Taji, a trip of about 110 miles. The Iraqis had visited the base to pick up several vehicles.

A major in the Najaf police force, who was granted anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, said Saturday that Iraqi authorities had accounted for only about 60 officers, including 1 dead, 18 wounded and more than 40 survivors who had returned safely to police headquarters.

The rest were missing and presumed to be kidnapped, dead, hiding or to have not yet reported for duty in Najaf, officials said.

Police officials at the Najaf headquarters said that when they tried calling the cellphone of one of the missing officers, an unidentified man answered, laughed chillingly and said, "If you are brave, come and get him."

The convoy was attacked while it was passing through a predominantly Sunni Arab area just north of Baghdad, where Iraqi security forces have conducted numerous raids on suspected insurgent strongholds and come under frequent attack.

The Iraqi police, accompanied by an American military police unit for protection, had gone to Taji to retrieve 10 vehicles from the Americans, the authorities said.

According to Maj. Gen. Abbas Maadal, chief of police in Najaf, the Iraqis had requested permission to stay overnight on the base because of the hazards of traveling at night. They were denied, General Maadal said, and were sent back to Najaf. The American military police escort also left the base, though ahead of the Iraqis, officials said.

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, an American military spokesman in Baghdad, disputed General Maadal's account, telling The Associated Press that the police had never asked to stay on the base.

Clarifying an earlier report, Maj. Steven Stover, another military spokesman in Baghdad, said Saturday that the American escorts had planned to rest overnight in Rustamiya, south of Baghdad, not Taji. He added that he had no knowledge of the Iraqis' plans and could not speak for the Iraqi police force.

Ann Bertucci, a spokeswoman for the American military's police training program, said the Iraqis never planned to stay the night at Taji. "It was always planned as a day trip," she said. "They arrived, fueled up and left."

The American command referred all further inquiries to the Iraqi authorities. General Maadal declined to comment further on Saturday. The governor of Najaf, Asad Abu Goulal, also declined to reveal further details of the case.

Iraq's political leaders continued their scrum over a new government, as members of the leading Shiite bloc met to debate whether Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari should remain the government's top official.

An independent member of the bloc said Saturday that the revered Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani sent a communiquÚ to the Shiites on Friday. Though the contents of the letter were not made public, another senior member of the bloc, Ridha Rawad Taki, seemed to be referring to the document when he said in an interview on Al Iraqiya television that the bloc had received "instructions" from Mr. Sistani "that everybody should submit concessions to solve this issue."

Iraq's political leaders are under extraordinary pressure to resolve the impasse. Parliament is scheduled to convene Monday. In addition, Iraqi and American political leaders assert that lawlessness has thrived and government bureaucracies have slowed to a crawl in the absence of a permanent government.

"There will be a change soon, and the crisis will be solved," said Jalal Edeen al-Sagheer, a senior member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite party that has opposed Mr. Jaafari's nomination. "If things move as they are right now, we will reach a solution in 24 hours."

The American military command said Saturday that a marine died in a vehicle accident in Anbar Province on Saturday.

In Basra, gunmen killed Lt. Col. Ali Muhammad Abdul Latif, the chief of the city's traffic police, and wounded his driver, the police said.

An official from Basra's riot police division, Saleh Abdul Karim al-Asadi, was also killed by gunmen, police officials said, adding that Mr. Asadi's bullet-riddled body was found Saturday under a bridge.

In Baghdad, a homemade bomb detonated near an Iraqi Army convoy in Dora, killing three Iraqi soldiers and wounding eight, an Interior Ministry official said.


Ali Adeeb and Michael Moss contributed reporting from Baghdad for this article, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Najaf, Basra and Kirkuk.

:: Article nr. 22614 sent on 16-apr-2006 23:42 ECT


Link: www.truthout.org/docs_2006/041606Y.shtml

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