Video: Christmas in Iraq

updated 12/24/2006 10:38:49 PM ET 2006-12-25T03:38:49

Some 12,000 Iraqi policemen have been killed since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, the country’s interior minister said Sunday, as clashes, a suicide bomber and weekend explosions killed more than a dozen Iraqi officers and six American soldiers.

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

Among the deaths Sunday 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.

Police and police recruits have been frequent targets of insurgent attacks. In one of the worst single attacks, a suicide car bomber detonated his explosives near a line of national guard and police recruits waiting to take physicals in February 2005. The blast in Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, killed 125.

Another bombing killed 60 civilians lining up to apply for police jobs in the Kurdish city of Irbil in northern Iraq in 2005.

Rogue officers
Police have also 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.

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,” al-Bolani said.

The Iraqi Ministry of Health estimated in November that 150,000 Iraqi civilians been killed in the war that began in 2003. Other estimates put the figure as low as 51,000 or as high as 600,000. Iraq’s health ministry is responsible for estimates of civilian deaths, while the interior ministry keeps track of the number of police killed.

In other violence, five Iraqi officers died battling Shiite 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 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.

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,” al-Bolani said.

He refused to identify the groups, but police said they were members of al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

The anti-American cleric has lost control of some elements of his militia, and it was unclear whether the gunmen considered themselves loyal to the cleric or were a renegade group intent on local control.

About 40 suspected militiamen were captured, a police official said on condition of anonymity out of concern for his safety.

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

“No multinational forces are there at all,” said Maj. Charlie Burbridge, spokesman for British forces in the neighboring province of Basra.

String of bombings
A string of bombings claimed the lives of six U.S. soldiers in an around Baghdad.

Three members the U.S. 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.

Two more U.S. soldiers were killed Saturday in separate roadside blasts near Baghdad, the U.S. military said. One of them died when a bomb exploded southeast of the capital near a patrol searching for “suspected terrorists,” the military said. Four other soldiers were wounded in that incident.

The sixth U.S. soldier was killed when a bomb exploded southwest of Baghdad, near a patrol delivering supplies to units in the area.

With their deaths, at least 2,969 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

American troops hunting house-to-house for Shiite militia leaders in Baghdad described Christmas as just another day in Iraq.

“In the back of your mind you think about it, but there are no holidays in Iraq,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon Scott, a 35-year-old from Woodbridge, Va., and the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, which is part of the Army’s 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

Iraq’s Christians quietly celebrated behind closed doors, afraid to identify themselves in an Iraqi public increasingly divided along religious and sectarian lines. Some Christmas Eve church services in Baghdad were canceled because of security concerns.

Police found the handcuffed, tortured bodies of 38 men throughout the country on Sunday, more apparent victims of sectarian violence.

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