They arrive when you're out, kill your wife, two brothers, 11 guards, and kidnap your three children. Such is the cost of being an Iraqi police officer

EVEN by Baquba's bloody standards, it was a particularly merciless attack on a day of appalling violence across Iraq.

The hooded gunmen swooped before dawn in a convoy of cars, opening fire with rocket-propelled grenades before storming the home of the city's police chief, Colonel Ali Dilayan al-Jurani.

His house had been a mini-fortress, but they left a scene of appalling carnage.

"Several armed men attacked my house and killed 14 people, including my wife, brother and my 12 bodyguards," said a distraught Colonel Jurani, who was not at home at the time.

"The attackers also kidnapped my three children - two boys and a girl."

The bold attack underlined just how dangerous life is in Iraq even for a senior police officer given considerable protection.

Few doubted the assault on Colonel Jurani's house - the latest of countless attacks on Iraq's traumatised security forces - was an act of vengeance by al-Qaeda.

He had been directly responsible for the killing of three al-Qaeda fighters in the area earlier this week, officials said.

Baquba is the capital of the Diyala province, an al-Qaeda hotbed that has become Iraq's second most perilous region for American forces after Baghdad.

Hours after the attack on his home, a police major general and a lieutenant colonel were killed when a roadside bomb blasted their vehicle as they drove to Baquba, 35 miles north-east of Baghdad, to attend a security meeting.

Few jobs are more dangerous than that of a police officer in Iraq. At least 12,000 officers have died in the line of duty since the US-led invasion in 2003.

The police are widely thought to have been infiltrated by insurgents who have regularly targeted the Iraqi security forces and senior officials in an attempt to destabilise the government and fuel sectarian conflict.

Nevertheless young Iraqis continue to enlist, even though many are cut down by suicide bombers as they queue at police recruitment centres, never getting the chance to don a uniform.

"The police and the army provide the only jobs in town," one Western official in Baghdad told The Scotsman. "Some may be fired by national zeal, but mainly it's for the money. Their families have to eat."

The massacre at Colonel Jurani's home heralded a day of country-wide violence that reached parts of northern and southern Iraq that had so far escaped the worst of the mayhem.

In northern Iraq, two suicide bombers struck a Shia mosque and a police station in the town of Dokuk, near the contested oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which is claimed by Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.

At least 19 people were killed in the simultaneous attacks in Dokuk, a town largely inhabited by Turkmen Shias. Tension has soared in the Kirkuk area as Kurds seek to incorporate the city into their self-governing part of northern Iraq.

Several hundred miles to the south, at least another 16 people, including women and children, died in an explosion at a bus terminal in a bustling market in the town of Qurna.

Some reports suggested the Qurna blast was deliberate. But senior Iraqi security officials said it occurred accidentally when a minibus packed with Katyusha rockets and mortar bombs overheated while it was parked at a bus terminal. The weapons had been destined for Baghdad.

The spreading violence is seen as further evidence that the American-led troop "surge" in central Iraq is serving mainly to disperse the insurgency - including bombings, shootings, mortar attacks and execution-style attacks - further away from the capital.

• THEY have the most dangerous beat in the world. On average, 120 Iraqi police officers are killed every month. That is about three times the number of American casualties.

The predominantly Shia police force is about 130,000-strong. The Americans, who train most of the police, hope to boost that figure by a further 100,000. Washington is relying on this force to take over policing so that US troops can begin withdrawing.

Despite the dangers, police recruits continue to enlist: in a country with high unemployment the salary is a major incentive. The basic pay is 150 a month, far higher than the average salary. Higher ranks earn double that.

The US army provides 10-week basic training courses, after which graduates are dispatched to stations for "learning on the job" under experienced officers.

Because of the dangers, it is written into a policeman's contract that he can leave without notice. Many do: militias pay more and offer better equipment.

Back to the top of the page