Sun, Jul 13, 2003 - Page 6 News List

No casualties as prison police in Iraq take fire

AP , BAGHDAD

US military police securing a prison west of Baghdad came under attack early yesterday, but there were no reports of casualties, the military said.

Three explosions rocked the area near the prison just after midnight as soldiers from the 400th Military Police Battalion were operating west of the capital, said Corporal Todd Pruden, a spokesman for the military. The military would not release the name of the prison, but the area is the site of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad. The soldiers sent a team to investigate the explosions, but there were no reported arrests.

Abu Ghraib was the most feared detention facility in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, filled with torture chambers and dungeons, as well as gallows to hang political foes and murderers alike. The prison was closed just before the war, when Saddam granted a blanket amnesty, but Iraq's American occupiers have reluctantly reopened it. They say they understand the connotations the facility has for Iraqis, but need the space to hold dangerous looters and criminals that Saddam released.

Also yesterday, a US-appointed city council was taking office in Baqouba, a city northeast of Baghdad that has been the site of attacks on coalition forces. The city lies within an area known as the "Sunni Triangle," where Saddam still enjoys support.

Iraq's American administrators have stressed the importance of getting Iraq's local and national political bodies running again, though they say the full process of restoring Iraq's democracy will take more than a year.

A governing council of 25 to 30 prominent Iraqis is being formulated and will be the first national Iraqi governing body since the fall of Saddam's regime.

US officials said Friday that Paul Bremer, the top US official in Iraq, would hold a press conference yesterday in which he was expected to announce the creation of the group. Contacted yesterday morning, they said no press conference was scheduled. The reason for the change was not immediately clear.

A senior Western diplomat said earlier this month the council would have a Shiite Muslim majority, to reflect the demographics of the country, and favor internal Iraqi politicians over those who returned from exile. Women are also expected to get a prominent role.

In another bid to win over a skeptical Iraqi public, American soldiers on Friday dramatically decreased their presence at a police station in the restive western town of Fallujah after Iraqi officers complained they were in danger of being caught in the crossfire if insurgents attacked.

Fallujah Mayor Taha Bedewi said on Friday he hoped the reduced US troop presence would help ease attacks on both the Iraqi police and US military personnel.

"The Americans were inside the mayor's office building to protect us, but now we have told them that the Iraqi police can handle the issue," he said. "We asked them to leave and they did so... I hope the attacks will stop in this city."

A US military spokesman in Baghdad, Sergeant Patrick Compton, said he had no information about American forces leaving the mayor's office, although a reporter saw no sign of US soldiers nearby on Friday.

Colonel Jalal Sabri, head of the Fallujah police force, said soldiers also left the police station on Friday morning.

Later Friday, two US Humvees and a third military vehicle were seen outside the police station, but US soldiers said they had returned only temporarily.

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