IRAQ: Baghdad's traffic police defiant in face of violent attacks
Baghdad's traffic police have a hard enough job as it is, what with the blistering summer temperatures and the generally unruly behavior of motorists in the badly gridlocked city.
Their job has just become a lot harder. Since Tuesday, nine of their number have been killed and nearly two dozen injured in a sudden surge of attacks in different parts of the city, making it clear that traffic police are being targeted deliberately.
Some have been blown up as they drive to or from work by sticky bombs attached to the underside of their cars. Others have been mowed down in drive-by shootings as they direct traffic. Improvised explosive devices have been used to destroy the cabins in which they take shelter and to target mobile patrols.
On Sunday, in the latest attacks, six traffic officers were injured in two bombings in the morning and an evening hand grenade attack against a mobile patrol.
Nobody knows for sure who is carrying out the attacks, although fingers point to Al Qaeda in Iraq. Many Iraqis fear the extremist group is trying to make a comeback as U.S. troops draw down, and attacks also have increased in recent days against the regular Iraqi police.
But this is the first time traffic police have been singled out for such a persistent assault, and many of them admit to feeling anxious as they carry out their duties.
"To tell you frankly, I am worried," said Mohammed Qassim as he stood beside the wreck of his cabin, destroyed on Thursday by a bomb at a busy intersection in eastern Baghdad. "I am feeling nervous as I'm standing here."
No one was injured in the attack, but his colleague, Qaiser Abdul Hussein, said the loss of the cabin where the traffic police took rests, ate snacks and kept their clothes had affected him deeply. "I felt so sad. ... I felt my house was destroyed. Now, without it, we feel as if we are in a desert."
Traffic police are among the most vulnerable of victims, because they only carry pistols and don't wear body armor. They are accustomed to having their colleagues blown up in random roadside bombings but not to being targeted in such a specific way, said Ali Mohammed Abdul Rahman, a 19-year veteran of the force.
"As you know, we have no defenses, only our pistols and our whistles," he said. "And now we have a new worry, because we don't know which car will open fire at us."
But most of the traffic police interviewed vowed they would not be deterred from their mission to bring at least a semblance of order to Baghdad's chaotic streets.
"We know what are the intentions of the terrorists who want our country to live in chaos," said Arkan Salim Hatim, as he paused from directing traffic at another major intersection. "They want to create unrest, disorder and mayhem in the streets so that they can be in control."
"But let them do what they can. We will never stop our work. Let them kill us, and others will come instead of us."
Photo: A traffic policeman directs traffic in Baghdad. Credit: Raheem Salman / Los Angeles Times