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Iraqi police prime targets of insurgency

From Brian Todd

Basra, Iraq
Iraqi police survey the scene of a car bomb explosion Tuesday from the night before in Basra, Iraq.
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Civil Unrest

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The weapon: A powerful car bomb. The target: A police station. The toll: At least six policemen blown up. This scene and the refrain from Iraq's current leader strike a familiar chord.

"These evil forces will not continue to inflict harm on the Iraqi people," Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said Tuesday.

But the increased targeting of Iraqi security forces -- especially police -- paints an ominous picture.

According to the Interior Ministry and figures compiled from news reports, more than 1,300 Iraqi police officers have been killed since the late-June handover, and more than two dozen have been killed just since January 1 -- an overall figure on-par with the total number of American servicemen killed since the war began.

"These are numbers that the United States needs to concentrate on far more intensely," says Ken Pollack, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Experts we spoke to, including current and former coalition military and civilian officials, say look at the patterns:

In early November, 21 people, many of them policemen, were killed execution-style in the town of Haditha.

Early this week, Baghdad's deputy police chief and his son were gunned down in broad daylight.

The insurgents, they say, are getting more brazen, have developed a coherent strategy, and are sending a clear message to potential officers and the citizens they're supposed to protect.

"It sends them the message that if you try to help the Americans re-build the country, no good will come of it, only bad. ... Obviously, any would-be Iraqi police officer or other participant in the security forces has got to consider the possibility that he will be killed," says Pollack.

An especially dangerous problem cited by experts: Elements of the force have been infiltrated, and insurgents know where and when police are gathering.

One observer says U.S. and Iraqi officials place too much emphasis on sheer numbers -- getting officers on the street -- and not enough on recruiting trustworthy officers.

Many believe ethnic loyalties are affecting morale and cooperation. Sunnis in the force, many of whom served during Saddam's regime, feel increasingly threatened with the integration of Shiiteand Kurdish officers.

All the experts we spoke to say the goal of insurgents in attacking police is part of their broader plan to create instability and steer the country toward civil war.

A former coalition official believes we're already there. This is a low-level civil war, he says, with U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces on the front lines.

Despite all this, every indication is that there has been no drop-off in recruiting, in part because the economic situation is too desperate.

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