YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The World

Three U.S. Soldiers Killed in Iraq; Job Applicants Riot in Baghdad

Men desperate to join a fledgling police force say corrupt recruiters reneged on promises.

October 02, 2003|Tyler Marshall | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Three American soldiers were killed and three were wounded Wednesday in separate attacks apparently launched by groups resisting the U.S. presence in Iraq.

U.S. military officials in Baghdad said the incidents -- in the town of Tikrit, an affluent Baghdad neighborhood and the town of Samarra -- occurred during routine patrols. They brought the number of Americans killed in action to 89 since May 1, the day President Bush declared an end to major hostilities. A total of 313 American troops have died in the conflict.

The deaths came several hours after American forces were called in to help quell a mini-riot in central Baghdad involving a group of enraged job applicants who turned on police when told that long-promised positions as law enforcement recruits had failed to materialize.

Iraqi police fired warning shots as the group attacked a police station with rocks and set two cars on fire. Two people reportedly were injured.

The protesters, who were seeking work with the fledgling Facilities Protection Service, which guards banks, schools, hospitals and other government installations, alleged that they were cheated by corrupt officers. They said they had paid large bribes in return for the promise that their applications would be shepherded through the selection process. Some said they had paid $100 and pledged half their first paycheck.

The demonstrators milled around the area for nearly an hour, melting away soon after U.S. soldiers arrived.

The unrest in the capital came hours before an apparently makeshift bomb exploded a few hundred yards from the main U.S. base in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, claiming the life of one American soldier and wounding two others. Associated Press reported that the fatality was a woman attached to the Army's 4th Infantry Division.

A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad declined to confirm that the casualty was a woman. He said the soldiers were traveling in a convoy when the bomb went off.

The role of women in combat was severely restricted until 1992, when Congress repealed exclusion laws, allowing women to fly combat aircraft and serve on combat vessels. That same year, the Pentagon eased its own restrictions but kept in place one that prevents women from being assigned to units for "direct ground combat with the enemy."

In Iraq, women have taken on dozens of risky roles, including flying combat aircraft, driving supply trucks to the front lines and serving in combat support units.

The second soldier was shot by a small-caliber weapon late Wednesday while on patrol in Baghdad's Mansour district, where many foreign embassies are located.

The third incident occurred outside the town of Samarra, near Tikrit, when a rocket-propelled grenade hit a convoy. Lt. Col. Bill MacDonald, 4th Infantry Division spokesman, said a soldier was severely wounded and died soon afterward at a field hospital.

The demonstration in the capital, which involved more than 100 potential recruits, reflects the rising desperation among young men in postwar Iraq, where unemployment is estimated at 60%. It also underscored the fact that despite the collapse of Hussein's Baathist regime, the corruption so endemic under Hussein remains a serious problem.

Associated Press reported that police in the northern city of Mosul also fired warning shots to break up a march on a local employment office by hundreds of young men demanding jobs.

With emotions over the lack of work already high in the country's major cities, the charges of corruption against police in Baghdad only exacerbated the tensions. The frustration among those protesting was evident.

"I paid what they asked of me, [but] all they say is, 'Come next week, come tomorrow,' " said 25-year-old Sami Kadhim, a recent college graduate.

Added another, who did not identify himself: "They are taking 50, 60, 70,000 dinars [about $25 to $35] and saying: 'In three to four days you'll get a job. If you don't pay, we'll just throw away your application.' "

Some applicants said they had been constantly following up on applications they had submitted -- along with bribes -- months ago.

In interviews, recently recruited members of the Facilities Protection Service indicated that recruits hired by the U.S.-led coalition forces did not have to pay bribes but that Iraqi officials frequently demanded them. Two members of the service, interviewed Wednesday at Baghdad University, indicated that the problem was widely known.

"Yes, we are aware of that fact [the need to pay bribes for jobs] and so are the Americans, but they tend to turn a blind eye to it," said Waleed Khalid Ali, 35.

Wednesday's incident came on a day that an Iraqi newspaper, Al Taakhi, reported that 200 police officers had been arrested on suspicion of corruption. The report carried few details.


Times researcher Said al-Rifai in The Times' Baghdad Bureau and staff writer Esther Schrader in Washington contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times Articles