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12,000 Iraqi police reported killed since '03

An Iraqi soldier looked through the wreckage of a burned vehicle after a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad yesterday. Weekend violence killed six US soldiers . (Mohammed Ameen/Reuters)

BAGHDAD -- Some 12,000 Iraqi policemen have been killed since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, the country's interior minister said yesterday, as clashes, a suicide bomber, and weekend explosions killed more than a dozen Iraqi officers and six US soldiers.

At a news conference in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani said that despite the thousands of police deaths, "when we call for new recruits, they come by the hundreds and by the thousands."

Among the deaths yesterday were seven police officers killed when a suicide bomber hit a police station in Muqdadiyah, northeast of the capital. The bombing was followed by six mortar rounds. In Mosul, a drive-by shooting killed two policemen.

Police and police recruits have been frequent targets of insurgent attacks. In one of the worst attacks, a suicide car bomber detonated his explosives near a line of national guard and police recruits waiting to take physical exams in February 2005. The blast in Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, killed 125.

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Another bombing killed 60 civilians lining up to apply for police jobs in the Kurdish city of Erbil in northern Iraq in 2005.

Police have also been blamed for violence. Gunmen in Iraqi Army and police uniforms have been responsible for recent bank robberies in Baghdad, and the kidnapping of more than 40 workers and volunteers at the Iraqi Red Crescent.

Bolani vowed to rid his ministry of rogue officers.

"We formed committees to clean and purge . . . to dismiss the bad elements from the ministry and build our institutions," Bolani said.

The Iraqi Ministry of Health estimated in November that 150,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the war, which began in 2003. Other estimates put the figure as low as 51,000 or as high as 600,000. Iraq's Health Ministry is responsible for keeping estimates of civilian deaths, while the Interior Ministry keeps track of the number of police killed.

In other violence, five Iraqi officers died battling Shi'ite militiamen in a provincial capital in southern Iraq just months after British troops ceded control of the province to Iraqi security forces. Three days of fighting in Samawah, capital of the Muthana Province, posed a challenge for Iraqi forces whose responsibilities are increasing as part of a US plan to put more Iraqi provinces under local control.

Fighters linked to the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr fired rocket-propelled grenades at police headquarters and state buildings in Samawah, before government reinforcements arrived and a curfew fell on the city, police said. Masked gunmen lined rooftops.

Bolani sought to downplay three days of clashes in Samawah, which lies on the Euphrates River about 230 miles southeast of Baghdad.

"We know the [Iraqi] forces there can face these outlaw groups, but we want to tell the people that the government is present everywhere," Bolani said.

He refused to identify the groups, but police said they were members of Sadr's Mahdi Army.

About 40 suspected militiamen were captured, a police official said on condition of anonymity out of concern for his safety.

The US military has detained at least four Iranians captured recently in Iraq, The New York Times reported today, citing American and Iraqi officials. The Times said the men, described by the Bush administration as senior military officials, were seized in two raids late last week aimed at people suspected of attacks on Iraqi security forces.

The six US soldiers killed over the weekend were victims of a string of bombings in an d around Baghdad. Three members of the US 89th Military Police Brigade were killed Saturday in east Baghdad when a roadside bomb detonated, the military said.

A fourth soldier, assigned to the Third Brigade Combat Team, First Cavalry Division, died Saturday in an explosion in Diyala, east of the Iraqi capital.

Two more US soldiers were killed Saturday in separate roadside blasts near Baghdad, the US military said. One of them died when a bomb exploded southeast of the capital near a patrol searching for "suspected terrorists," the military said. Four other soldiers were wounded in that bombing.

The sixth US soldier was killed when a bomb exploded southwest of Baghdad, near a patrol delivering supplies to units in the area.

With their deaths, at least 2,969 members of the US military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war, according to an Associated Press count.

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