BAGHDAD, Iraq – With no work and five children to feed, Salah Abbas ignored his family's pleas not to join the Iraqi National Guard (search), a job where the paycheck comes with a deadly risk.
But a homicide bomber (search) who blew himself up last month near where Abbas and others were lining up to apply for the force changed his mind.
"How can anyone volunteer after this disaster?" he said from his hospital bed after the blast left him with shrapnel wounds to the back and legs. "I won't join. I'd rather live on bare bread."
Insurgents are increasingly targeting men like Abbas along with those who have already entered the ranks of security forces, and appear to have raised the level of planning and sophistication of operations to work around security measures.
A wave of bombings, mortar attacks and shootings of police and potential recruits— viewed by guerrillas as collaborators with U.S.-led forces — have left areas around many police stations and recruiting centers littered with mangled body parts and teeming with dazed men in bloodied uniforms.
On Sunday, a homicide attacker detonated a minibus packed with explosives near an east Baghdad police academy, killing at least three of the school's students and a female officer.
Interior Ministry officials say there are no comprehensive figures for security forces killed in attacks across the country.
Maj. Gen. Samir al-Waeli (search), an Interior Ministry official, said nearly 1,000 policemen have been killed since April 2003. But the figure doesn't include volunteers killed in attacks on recruitment centers or members of other security services, such as the national guard and army.
Baghdad police commander, Maj. Gen. Abdul Razzaq Abdul Wahhab, told reporters police would review security procedures and work on erecting more roadblocks and checking the identity of drivers approaching possible targets.
Officials say they are also trying to limit the number of assembled applicants by asking them not to show up on the same day.
Some of the survivors of the Sept. 22 bombing which wounded Abbas said those waiting to join the national guard were asked to spread out in a nearby street rather than line up outside the recruiting center and present attackers with an easy target.
But the militants knew exactly where to strike.
Instead of exploding the car at the center, the driver blew it up on the street where the recruits were photocopying documents, eating ice-cream and chatting with each other. At least six persons were killed and another 54 wounded.
"They are better organized than before," said Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin of the Iraqi National Guard in the northern city of Kirkuk of the insurgents. "They wait for a chance, stake out targets and get thorough information."
Despite the carnage, Iraqi officials say the attacks have failed to demoralize troops or drive away volunteers, with applications continuing to pour in. Some policemen say the attacks only increase their determination to serve their country and fight the militants.
Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said he visited a police recruitment center one day after at least 40 people were killed in an attack there.
"I found hundreds of people coming to volunteer to the police and to the army," he said in a recent news conference with President Bush. "They are all upbeat. They are resolved to beat terrorism and to defeat the insurgents."
Rebuilding Iraq's security services are key not only to long-term stability but U.S. plans to gradually pull out of the country.
Allawi said the government now commands almost 100,000 trained and combat-ready Iraqis, including police, national guard and army, and has accelerated the development of special forces and a counter-terrorist strike force.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim said the fact that security forces have become a favorite target was a testimony to their success.
But with soaring unemployment, many of those applicants who are willing to brave the dangers, seem to be doing it mostly for the paycheck, raising questions about their commitment and loyalty in the face of an unyielding insurgency.
A starting position with the Iraqi National Guard, which have been in the forefront of several high-profile raids and operations, pays about $200 a month in addition to a daily $6 for food, Amin said.
In Kirkuk — where a homicide attack this month near a crowd of would-be Iraqi National Guard recruits killed at least 19 people and wounded 67— provincial council member Sheikh Naif al-Jabouri blamed double agents for attacks on security forces.
"We have security men with two faces," al-Jabouri said. "Sometimes they work for the government but sometimes they work for the terrorists."
Recently U.S. troops arrested an Iraqi National Guard battalion commander, Col. Daham Abd, allegedly for providing ammunition, money and information to the insurgents in near Kirkuk.
In some clashes, security forces have joined militants or idly watched them take over positions, either out of fear of sympathy.
In recent months, the Americans have been carefully building up the Iraqi military and U.S. officers now cautiously say that more Iraqi soldiers and police are ready to take on rebel attacks.
Despite public praise, some U.S. soldiers in the past have privately said they don't trust their comrades-in-arms.
The distrust seems mutual among some.
"The Americans don't want an army in Iraq. They don't want stability. They don't want security," said Abbas, the injured would-have-been recruit. "They want destruction so that they can stay."