BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – A roadside bomb killed the police chief of Iraq’s Babel province and five of his guards on Sunday in what the U.S. military described as a “terrible loss”.
The attack on Major-General Qais al-Mamouri’s convoy follows a threat by an al Qaeda-linked militant group to carry out a wave of car bomb attacks and strikes on Iraqi security forces and neighbourhood security patrols cooperating with U.S. soldiers.
Police said Mamouri was killed when the bomb struck his convoy near the provincial capital Hilla, 100 km (60 miles) south of Baghdad.
They said it was the seventh attempt on Mamouri’s life since he became Babel police chief a few years ago. Police immediately declared a curfew in the largely Shi’ite city.
At a media briefing only hours before the blast, U.S. military commanders from the area had praised Mamouri for his efforts to improve security in Babel.
“This is a terrible loss,” a U.S. military spokeswoman said.
The province is expected to be one of the next to revert to the control of Iraqi security forces. Iraqi forces have taken back security responsibility from multinational forces for eight of the country’s 18 provinces.
A roadside bomb killed the police chief of Diwaniya province in southern Iraq in August. Other provincial police chiefs have survived numerous assassination attempts.
The U.S. military says Iraq’s forces have improved steadily but there is no timetable for a rush of provincial handovers as the United States begins the gradual withdrawal of more than 20,000 soldiers by July 2008. That drawdown has been made possible by sharp falls in violence across most of Iraq since a build-up of U.S. forces was completed in mid-June.
U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith told a news conference that attacks had fallen 60 percent during the troop build-up. The number of roadside bomb attacks fell 15 percent in November from October, he said — speaking before news of Mamouri’s death was announced.
U.S. military commanders have also reported a decrease in attacks using Iranian-made weapons, a development some Iraqi officials hope will lead to better dialogue between Washington and Tehran over security in Iraq.