FALLUJAH, Iraq – Three assailants in red-and-white Arab headdresses gunned down the police chief of a city west of Baghdad Monday in an ambush that underscored the perils for Iraqis who join U.S.-backed security forces.
The Americans hope those forces will gradually take over security from U.S. troops -- part of the effort to transfer sovereignty to Iraqis. The attack came three days after U.S. forces mistakenly killed eight Iraqi policemen in Fallujah in the worst friendly fire incident since major fighting ended.
"The three attackers opened fire with machine guns, shot one of the tires of the chief's car and then approached the vehicle and shot him at least 25 times," said his driver, 47-year-old Rabia'a Kamash. He spoke to The Associated Press at Fallujah General Hospital, where he was being treated for wounds to his head and shoulder.
Khaldiya and Fallujah (search), on the main highway to the Jordanian border, are the heart of the "Sunni Triangle (search)," a broad swath of Iraq north and west of Baghdad where support for Saddam Hussein remains strong and guerrilla warfare against the American occupation is heaviest.
The Sunni Triangle also includes Baghdad, where a 1st Armored Division soldier died of his wounds in a military field hospital Monday after a pre-dawn rocket-propelled attack on his patrol, the second U.S. casualty in as many days. He was the 156th American to die in Iraq since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1. During the period of heavy fighting before that date, 138 soldiers were killed.
Ali, a former Iraqi army officer who had been police chief for two months, was attacked on the outskirts of Fallujah as he was driving home. In addition to the driver, Ali's bodyguard, Fouad Issa, 40, was wounded in the shoulder and back.
Ali had taken over the Khaldiya force as U.S. troops pulled out of the town in July in conjunction with a general pullback from the region's population centers and the flanking cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.
Two Khaldiya officers said a gang of car thieves was likely behind the killing of the police chief, but other policemen said officers are often attacked because of their perceived association with the American occupation force.
Officers in Khaldiya said many in the town shun policemen. In many cases, Iraqis who joined U.S.-backed security forces are seen as collaborators who sold out for an income at a time of 60 percent unemployment in Iraq.
"We are not in the police to serve the Americans, but to protect our community," said Abdel-Salam Elaiwah, a Khaldiya policeman. "Those who attack us are just thieves."
He said theft, especially of cars, was rampant in Khaldiya, with as many as four reported daily. "I am sure the killing of the colonel was the work of thieves," he said outside the police headquarters at Khaldiya, about 18 miles west of Fallujah.
"Lately the colonel had been actively pursuing a gang of car thieves who had repeatedly threatened to kill him," said Ahmed Joma'a, another Khaldiya police officer.
Meanwhile, in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, the U.S. military continued its raids, arresting five men suspected of helping to finance attacks against the American-led occupation force.
"These individuals are involved in financing Fedayeen activity and organizing cells of resistance against U.S. forces," said Maj. Bryan Luke of the Army's 4th Infantry Division. No shots were fired in the early morning raid.
Later Monday, delegates from the province of Sallahudin, where Tikrit is located, elected their first interim council, the first such election in more than 30 years.
Of the 34-member council, 30 were elected by 120 delegates from the province, while four were appointed by the U.S.-led occupation forces.
"It is a solid step forward, a historic event which marks the first step toward the democratization of your province," said Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division and commander of U.S.-led forces in northeastern Iraq.
The council's main tasks will include reconstruction and resettlement of displaced Arabs and Kurds.