BAGHDAD (AFP) – A bomb targeting traffic police killed one officer in the Iraqi capital on Monday, in the latest attack on the force as security chiefs mull arming them with high-powered weapons.
The roadside explosion at a police station in Ghazaliyah, western Baghdad, also killed a civilian and left 10 people wounded, including seven traffic policemen, officials said.
The blast brought to at least five the number of traffic policemen — who usually do not wear bullet-proof vests or carry weapons but pistols — killed this month, with a further 27 wounded.
“It is a sick strategy that the terrorists are carrying out,” said traffic police Lieutenant Ahmed Ali, working in the central Baghdad junction of Karamana Square.
“We are working to serve the people, to organise the traffic,” the father of two young girls added.
“These attacks are being carried out by Al-Qaeda, which wants to target the government, and so attacks those who represent the state in an attempt to topple it.”
Several traffic policemen in Baghdad have been seen carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles in recent days, in an apparent response to the attacks against the force.
Asked if traffic police were the target of an insurgent campaign, Iraqi Lieutenant General Ali Ghaidan Majeed, commander of the country’s ground forces, told a press briefing in Baghdad: “For the most part they are not armed so they are easy targets for the terrorists.
“From 2005 to 2008 the traffic police were armed but after the stability we saw in Iraq we first allowed them to have just a side-arm for self defence, but now we are looking at arming them with long rifles.”
The string of shootings and explosions have worsened already severe gridlock during rush hour in Baghdad.
According to witnesses several traffic policemen were not patrolling the streets at major junctions, but instead observing from behind concrete blast walls or other concealed areas.
Monday’s violence comes after a weekend in which 60 people were killed, ahead of the start of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan when insurgents typically step up their attacks.
The latest unrest has fuelled concerns about security here — more than 100 people have died this month — as the United States pulls out thousands of troops from the country, although US officers insist Iraqi soldiers and police are up to the task.
Iraq is also grappling with a five-month-long political impasse after March 7 parliamentary elections failed to produce a clear winner, ushering in as yet fruitless coalition negotiations between the leading parties.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, fighting to keep his job after narrowly losing the election, insisted the security situation was not getting worse, “but some gaps have opened up, here and there, from time to time.”
“Armed groups will not be able to take Iraq back to the old days,” he said during a visit to Arbil, referring to the peak of a brutal sectarian war that blighted the country from 2006 to 2007.
The weekend’s violence comes ahead of Ramadan, expected to begin in Iraq on Wednesday or Thursday. In previous years the holy month has coincided with a spike in insurgent activity.
The unrest also comes as US forces reduce troop levels ahead of an August 31 deadline to end combat operations here, by which time there will be 50,000 American soldiers in Iraq from about 64,000 currently.
The commander of American troops in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, told US television network ABC on Sunday that Iraqi forces were capable of securing the country.
“For the last 20 months, we’ve been slowly and deliberately turning over more and more responsibility to them, and they have stepped up,” he said.