updated 9/12/2004 6:06:07 PM ET 2004-09-12T22:06:07

A major gunbattle in the city center. A relentless barrage of mortar shells and rockets on the U.S.-protected Green Zone. A police chief killed while on patrol.

Intense violence in the heart of the Iraqi capital Sunday underscored the failure of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s U.S.-backed government to bring the security so many Iraqis yearn for.

“This government did not fulfill a single promise it made,” eye doctor Hammam Ahmed said at his central Baghdad office. “Many innocent people are getting killed and Iraqi blood continues to be shed. If this goes on, the Iraqi people will at the end be the only losers.”

At least 37 people were killed and 142 injured across the city in Sunday’s violence, which included one of the most intense rocket and mortar barrages ever launched by insurgents in the heart of the capital.

Allawi, a secular Shiite who returned to Iraq last year after decades in exile, took office June 28 declaring security to be his top priority.

Sunni insurgency
So far he has made little headway — if any — in dealing with the Sunni insurgency in Baghdad and areas to the north and west of the capital. He has been equally ineffective in quelling a radical Shiite faction that staged a bloody revolt last month, agreeing to a peace deal that allowed the gunmen to go free with their weapons.

Allawi has achieved some success in combatting organized crime in Baghdad, with several highly publicized raids on criminal hideouts netting dozens of suspects.

But despite announcements of occasional arrests of al-Qaida-linked extremists, his government has been unable to end terror attacks by a group led by Jordanian extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that is believed behind a series of horrific car bombings, kidnappings and beheadings of foreign hostages.

Tough talk has been a hallmark of Allawi’s style since he took office.

“We are determined to dismantle any militias that are outside the law,” he said Sunday in the southern city of Basra. “This to us is unacceptable. We are adamant that we are going to defeat terrorism.”

But Allawi’s ability to deal with the security crisis faces numerous obstacles.

He is only an interim, unelected leader without a base of popular support, and his short tenure is scheduled to end after January’s general election.

Seen as tool of Americans
Allawi also was the choice of the U.S.-led occupation authorities, which created a perception among many Iraqis that he is a tool of the Americans. While the U.S.-led occupation formally ended June 28, U.S. troops make up the bulk of a 160,000-strong multinational force and Washington has the means to influence decisions by Allawi and his government.

Further, Iraqi’s nascent security forces have only modest capabilities, being under-trained and ill-equipped.

Members of the Iraqi national guard, a paramilitary force that increasingly is participating in joint operations with the Americans, are targeted by insurgents as “collaborators.” Guard officers have been assassinated and kidnapped, and many guardsmen conceal their faces while on duty in public or take off their uniform when they go home after work.

The police force, except for some elite units, is no match for the insurgents and its officers work under the tacit control of insurgents in several “no-go” cities in Sunni areas.

Sunday’s violence in Baghdad raised by several notches the level of violence the capital has grown accustomed to in 17 months of chaos since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Ambushes of U.S. patrols, car bombings, gunfights and violent crime have become fixtures of life in this city of 6 million people. Concrete blast barriers, barbed wire, sandbags, watch towers and heavily armed Western security guards are seen everywhere.

The deterioration of security forced the Ministry of Education to postpone by three weeks the makeup exams at schools scheduled to start Sept. 5.

Kidnappings have sent hundreds of wealthy families scurrying for Jordan and Syria.

“If you have money, you’re a target for extortionists,” said Tall Said, a graphic designer with two children.

In Sadr City, a mainly Shiite slum that houses nearly half of Baghdad’s residents, clashes between U.S. troops and militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr keep most people at home after dark.

“Our life has become such a void,” said Nizar Adnan Ali, a Baghdad University student. “I hope to leave Iraq and come back 10 years later when things improve.”

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