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>> The Chicago Tribune


BAGHDAD, Iraq Guerrillas opened fire on a busload of police recruits south of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing nine of them in the worst of several bloody attacks on Iraqis working with the U.S.-led occupation.
The drive-by shooting occurred about 7:30 a.m. as the trainees were heading to work in Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad. At about the same hour in the northern city of Kirkuk, gunmen shot and killed two Iraqi police officers and wounded two more. And in Mosul, also in the north, a mortar attack on an Iraqi base left two members of the Iraqi security forces dead and six wounded.
Officials of the U.S.-led coalition had predicted a surge in attacks on what the military calls "soft targets." With coalition troops proving more difficult to engage as they fortify their positions and adapt to enemy tactics, the guerrillas are increasingly targeting civilians and lightly armed Iraqi forces. And the violence is likely to get worse, officials say, with only 100 days left until Iraqi sovereignty is scheduled to be restored.
The insurgents' goal, officials say, is "to undermine coalition cohesion, intimidate the Iraqi Governing Council and demoralize coalition partners." Or as Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt put it, "to break our will as this country moves forward."
"I'm glad that the people of Iraq recognize that this is a planned policy of intimidation," Kimmitt, spokesman for the coalition forces, said Monday.
With lawlessness the major concern before the planned June 30 hand-over, Iraq's interior minister acknowledged Tuesday that Iraqi forces would not be ready by then to assume responsibility for security.
"There are many requirements that must be fulfilled before then, like equipment, security plans, the security apparatus to execute those plans, border controls," Minister Nori al-Badran told Reuters. "Some of those requirements are partially fulfilled, others are not at all."
Al-Badran complained that U.S. forces do not adequately cooperate with Iraqi law enforcement, particularly on intelligence matters or the interrogation of suspects. He also warned that Iraq's various religious and ethnic militias, which continue to operate despite being banned by the coalition, present a serious threat to Iraq's future stability.
"If we distribute the authority to use force, it will be very difficult to control the situation and it will lead to chaos," he said. "For some people it's not in their interest to see a strong Interior Ministry. They want their militias to grow and they see a strong Interior Ministry as a threat to that."
On the political side, U.S. administrator Paul Bremer sought Tuesday to ease the concerns expressed by Iraq's leading Shiite cleric that the interim constitution signed early this month would become the primary basis for a permanent government charter.
"On what will be included in the permanent constitution, it will be decided by elected people and not the coalition," Bremer said in the holy city of Najaf, where he opened a refurbished electrical power plant. "Discussions about the law will continue, and we welcome that."
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who lives in Najaf, urged the United Nations not to endorse the constitution, contending it would divide Iraq's Kurds, Sunni Arabs and majority Shiite Arabs.
Al-Sistani also joined the chorus of condemnation against Israel's targeted killing of Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin. The Palestinian cleric died in an Israeli rocket attack Monday in Gaza City.
Calling it a "repulsive criminal act," al-Sistani called on "the Arab and Muslim people to consolidate their ranks and ... work diligently to liberate the seized land" of the Palestinians.
In Ramadi, a Sunni city west of Baghdad, demonstrators protesting Yassin's killing burned two police cars and threw two grenades at the governor's offices, according to witnesses. As U.S. troops looked on from behind concrete barriers, Iraqi police moved on the crowd, firing into the air to disperse the demonstrators. At least three civilians and two police officers were reported wounded.
Kimmitt said attacks on coalition forces held steady or abated recently, averaging 21 a day over the last week. But in the last few days, attacks on civilians and Iraqi police have claimed nearly two dozen lives. Among them were two Finnish businessmen shot to death Monday in Baghdad.
More Iraqi security forces have been killed than U.S. troops in the year since the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein was launched, according to Reuters statistics. This month alone, the news agency said, nearly 200 Iraqi civilians have been killed in suicide blasts countrywide.
The violence is complicating efforts to rally international support for Iraq.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be in Madrid on Wednesday to lobby incoming Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to stay in the coalition.
Zapatero, a Socialist who won election March 14 based in large part on his opposition to the war, has branded the occupation "a fiasco." He vowed to remove Spain's 1,300 troops soon after taking office in mid-April.
Zapatero has said Spain's withdrawal is all but inevitable. The newspaper El Pais reported Tuesday that, in a bid to show support for combating terrorism, Zapatero might boost Spain's troop presence in Afghanistan if he pulls out of Iraq.
Emma Bonino, a member of the European Parliament who was in Baghdad on a fact-finding mission, said her delegation would urge European leaders this week to make a long-term commitment to Iraq.
"We have a quite different position from Zapatero," Bonino said at a news conference Tuesday. "Our message is not to abandon these people, not to abandon this country, no matter what the disagreements were about the war."

Colin McMahon

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