BAGHDAD — Abdul Ritha Mizel Hasan would have much preferred it if his son Mohammed had gone to college. But when that didn't happen, Hasan, a retired police officer, thought the next best thing was for Mohammed to volunteer for the Iraqi police force. At least that way he could avoid serving in the military and embark on what Hasan believed would be a noble career.
But in October, 30-year-old Mohammed, who had served in the force for over a decade, became a police statistic himself when a car packed with an estimated 1,650 pounds of explosives ripped through the Shaab police station in a Baghdad neighborhood, leaving Hasan plagued with regret that he ever prompted his son to become a cop.
"I would no longer encourage young men to join the police," said a grief-stricken Hasan. Mohammed left behind a wife and three daughters younger than 4. "They are sacrificing their lives for political conflicts," Hasan said. "There is no guarantee for their safety. They will become victims."
Hasan's sentiments are shared by many Iraqi families, who in recent months have lost fathers, sons and brothers in a barrage of attacks against law enforcement officers.
As U.S.-led coalition forces struggle to quash insurgents who are unwilling to accept the demise of Saddam Hussein's regime, ill-equipped, poorly trained Iraqi police officers are facing the wrath of fighters who view them as coalition collaborators.
U.S. military officials put the number of Iraqi police personnel killed since May 1 -- when President Bush declared an end to major combat -- at 116. But some Iraqi police officials believe the number could be as high as 260.
During the holy month of Ramadan, six police stations were hit, and on the day of Hussein's capture, two more were destroyed.
Many police officials complain that they are not getting enough support or resources from the U.S.-led coalition force, which has assumed the responsibility for training the new law enforcement service. They hunger for more cars, flak jackets, guns and better wages for the 60,000 police dispersed throughout Iraq. They are also calling for concrete barricades, and not just sandbags, to be placed around all police stations.
"Now a policeman is paying with his blood, while his salary is just like any other civil servant's salary," said Lt. Col. Ali Abdul Hassan, the Shaab police commander, whose left cheek bears a scar from the shrapnel that pierced it.
The Coalition Provisional Authority recently announced that an extra stipend for hazardous duty of between $60 and $80 a month would be paid to police officers, soldiers, firemen and border guards.
"The Iraqi Security Forces are on the front lines fighting the terrorists that would prevent Iraq from becoming the prosperous and free nation that we know it will be," said L. Paul Bremer III, the civilian administrator for Iraq. "It is only right that these brave security forces, when faced with increased dangers, should be compensated for the hazardous duties they perform."
Gen. Kathum Abed Khalaf, chief of police for eastern Baghdad, said the families of police officers killed on duty were also entitled to $100 in death benefits and that the officers' salaries -- typically starting at around $120 a month -- were supposed to continue to be paid to their next of kin for the immediate future. The rank of a deceased police officer is also elevated.
"We want the martyrs to remain a symbol to the police and an honor to their families," Khalaf said. "It is our duty to do this."
But Hassan, the Shaab police commander, said none of the families of the five policemen killed in the blast at his station had received a penny in compensation and that 15 of his men were still hospitalized. Some were blinded, others paralyzed.
Hassan's staff has also been forced to work temporarily out of a dilapidated former government building devoid of windows and running water.
Despite the mounting police casualties, veteran law enforcement officials said they refused to be cowed by insurgents trying to destabilize Iraq.
"Their first purpose is to try to make the work of the police fail and to lower our morale, but this has not worked," said Khalaf, the police chief. "The best proof is that we are continuing in our duties, in fact even much more than before, in coordination with the coalition forces."
Iraqi police officials are also adamant that the insurgents are foreign extremists, who, Khalaf said, "want to keep Iraq in a chaotic situation to serve their own evil goals."
"[They] think we are serving the Americans, when in fact, no, we are serving our people," said Hushim Shakoori Mohammed, a policeman for 32 years. "My duty is to chase criminals whatever the regime may be."
That was not always the case. Under Hussein, the police force was largely regarded as corrupt and among the least competent of the country's security agencies. Officers were also notorious for the harassment and violent abuse of suspects.