Disastrous raid on Iraqi police station prompts review of training

Monday, February 16, 2004

BAGHDAD The U.S. military plans to review its training program for Iraqi police and security forces in the wake of a Sunni insurgency attack on a police station in which 25 people were killed and 75 detainees were released.

Up to 70 combatants, some of whom were believed to have been foreign volunteers, stormed the Faluja police station and killed more than a dozen officers in Saturday's attack. The insurgents met virtually no resistance as they captured the station in broad daylight and killed most of the people inside. Then, the insurgents released 75 detainees being held in the prison compound.

"The tactics were well conducted," Coalition Provisional Authority administrator Paul Bremer said on Sunday. "We're still looking into that to try to find out what the implications are."

Iraqi police have been sent for eight weeks of training in Iraq and Jordan, Middle East Newsline reported.

U.S. and Iraqi officials said the military and Coalition Provision Authority plan to examine the prospect of additional training for Iraqi security forces to deal with coordinated insurgency attacks such as that which took place in Faluja on Saturday.

Officials said information on the attack remained scarce because few police officers survived the attack. They said the insurgents were believed to have been led by former army commanders under the Saddam Hussein regime. They pointed to the classic battle tactics employed by the attackers and said Saddam loyalists might have used foreign volunteers for the initial assault.

The Sunni combatants were armed with rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and hand grenades. Four of the attackers were killed and two of them were identified as Lebanese nationals.

The Iraqi police of which nine were killed did not have anything more powerful than semi-automatic assault rifles, officials said. Ten members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps in the police station were also killed.

U.S. troops, who in late 2003 pulled out of Faluja under constant Sunni insurgency attacks, did not participate in the battle. The ICDC, trained to fight insurgents, was deployed in a nearby compound, but they were pinned down by RPG and automatic fire.

Officials said the Iraqi police were also unaware of the preparations for the attack. They said the insurgents blocked the road leading to the police station and warned shopkeepers to stay away from the area.

The failure to defend the Faluja station could result in a redeployment of Iraqi forces, particularly in the Sunni Triangle, officials said. They said this could include the deployment of Iraqi or U.S.-led coalition forces in or near Iraqi police and security facilities in such cities as Faluja, Nassariya and Tikrit. They also cited the prospect of a delay in the U.S. decision to withdraw from Iraqi cities by July 2004. The pullout is meant to coincide with the transfer of power to a new Iraqi government on June 30.

Iraqi and U.S. officials agree that after a lull Sunni insurgents have increased the pace of attacks over the last month. Many of the attacks were believed to have been conducted by foreign volunteers, who in contrast with Saddam loyalists have confronted U.S. and Iraqi troops. Saddam loyalists have preferred to conduct stand-off attacks.

So far, more than 300 Iraqi security personnel have been killed in Sunni insurgency attacks since May 2003. Iraq has deployed nearly 70,000 police, just short of the goal of 71,000 officers.

Despite accelerated recruitment and training, the other security forces have expanded slowly. The ICDC, authorized to battle insurgents, has about 21,000 members. Its goal has been to reach 92,000 within the year.

The new Iraqi Army has fewer than 2,000 of a planned 40,000 troops.

Officials stressed that the Faluja debacle did not reflect on the capability of Iraqi security forces throughout the country. They said the police and ICDC have demonstrated the ability to acquire excellent intelligence on Saddam loyalists and Al Qaida insurgents.

On Sunday, Iraqi police, in the first such operation, arrested a senior Baath Party official and ranked 41 on the U.S. military's list of 55 top fugitives. He was identified as Mohammed Zimam Abdul Razaq, Baath regional chairman in the northern provinces of Nineveh and Tamim.

Iraqi police in northern Iraq also reported the arrest of two Iraqis said to have carried a barrel of material believed to be uranium. Police said the Iraqis with the suspected uranium were arrested at a checkpoint north of Mosul on their way to northern Iraq. They said the material in the barrel would be examined to determine its content.

It was the first time Iraqi police have seized material said to be uranium. Last month, Iraqi officials said they were on alert for uranium shipments from Iran smuggled by agents of Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi, regarded by the United States as the most lethal insurgent in Iraq.

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