Iraq police take on crime with 527 arrests

Posted in Iraq | 14-Jul-04 | Author: Ian Fisher| Source: The New York Times

An American soldier and Iraqi police stop traffic as a U.S. military convoy passes through a busy intersection in Baghdad, Iraq Tuesday, July 13, 2004.
BAGHDAD Flexing its new muscles without American help, the new Iraqi government on Tuesday conducted a major sweep of common criminals in central Baghdad, arresting what officials said were 527 people suspected of crimes ranging from kidnapping to murder.

Safety is the major concern of Iraqis, and many complain that the American military had been less concerned with ordinary crimes, which have skyrocketed, than with bombings and terror attacks.

The raids Tuesday seemed intended to show that the new interim government, which took power from American occupation forces here two weeks ago, would not only move forcefully against everyday violence, but would be capable of doing so alone.

‘‘There was no coordination with the Americans in these arrests,’’ said Sabah Kadhim, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. ‘‘This was done totally by Iraqis.’’

The raid, the second in the last week, was carried out by the Baghdad police and Iraqi intelligence agents. Kadhim said that those arrested would be investigated for any links to insurgents who regularly attack American and Iraqi forces.

Meanwhile, the Philippine government released an ambiguous message about whether it would bend to the demands of kidnappers who abducted a Filipino truck driver last week and hasten the withdrawal of the country’s 50-soldier military presence in Iraq.

A government statement released on Tuesday after an all-night cabinet meeting in Manila said it would pull out the soldiers as soon as it could, though the statement did not say whether it would actually speed up the withdrawal, already scheduled for Aug. 20.

The kidnappers said they would execute the hostage, Angelo de la Cruz, a truck driver for a Saudi company, on Sunday if the Philippine government did not agree to withdraw the troops a month early. There was no word whether Cruz was still alive.

Kidnappers are also holding two Bulgarians and an Egyptian, the latest in several dozens of foreigners who have been taken hostage here in the last few months in exchange for various political demands. Agence France-Presse, citing Al Jazeera television, reported that one of the Bulgarian hostages had been executed by his captors, and gave a 24-hour deadline for the other.

Most of the other hostages have been released safely.

In Brussels, the new interim foreign minister of Iraq, Hoshiyar Zebari, appealed to NATO nations for urgent help in training Iraqi security forces to help fight the insurgency here, as promised last month at the organization’s summit meeting in Turkey.

He also said that Iraq would require military equipment and help from NATO in border control and protecting UN workers who would oversee the elections for a national assembly next January. ‘‘We need this training you promised us in Istanbul to be carried out as soon as possible,’’ Zebari told reporters in Brussels. ‘‘We need it, in fact we are in a race against time and it’s a matter of urgency.’’

NATO members have disputed exactly what their agreement last month meant, with several countries opposing having NATO as the primary trainer of Iraqi security forces. Several nations, including France, have ruled out a direct presence of NATO troops.

Amid a lull in major attacks in Iraq, there were several explosions in Baghdad on Tuesday, including one that raised a plume of smoke in the Green Zone, the heavily fortified city center area that is the main headquarters for U.S. officials here.

The military reported that a hand grenade was tossed at a U.S. patrol in central Baghdad. Another explosion in southeastern Baghdad wounded three Iraqi civilians, the army said.

While the overall level of violence remains high, there have not been any large, spectacular attacks with high death tolls for nearly three weeks.

Meantime, the head of the Iraqi Olympic Committee said his convoy was attacked in Baghdad on Monday, wounding one of his guards. ‘‘This was an assassination attempt,’’ the committee head, Ahmed al-Samarrai, told Reuters.

He said that a roadside bomb had exploded near his two-car convoy and that insurgents then attacked with grenades and gunfire. Attacks on Iraqi officials have been common in the last year and a half, killing most prominently two members of the Iraqi Governing Council, the now-disbanded body of Iraqis who had been appointed by Americans to help run Iraq.

In the northern city of Mosul, an Iraqi civil defense soldier died Monday in a firefight with insurgents who attacked his patrol. Nine other soldiers were reported wounded and two of the attackers were reported killed.

An Iraqi employee of The New York Times contributed reporting for this article.