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Iraqi police shortage to last through elections

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The Iraqi capital is still far short of the numbers of Iraqi policemen needed to secure it and the force won't be up to strength in time for national elections in January, the U.S. general in charge of security in Baghdad said Tuesday.

The blunt assessment of police deficiencies contradicts upbeat assessments that the Iraqi force would be able to protect Iraqi voters by the scheduled election, or even earlier.

Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of the Army's 1st Cavalry Division, said Baghdad needs 25,000 police. Of those, 7,000 would patrol Sadr City, the Shiite slum home to more than a third of the capital's 6 million residents, he said.

Right now, the city counts 15,000 police — most of whom have had just eight weeks of training.

"We're about 10,000 short of what we need," Chiarelli said in a lunch briefing with reporters. He said Baghdad's required contingent of 25,000 police should be on the streets by spring or summer 2005.

Meanwhile, a thousand homemade bombs have been hidden in the streets and alleys of Sadr City, and Chiarelli said neighborhood leaders have promised to disarm them as part of an ongoing weapons amnesty.

The rebel bombs remain hidden in the east Baghdad neighborhood's walls and buried under its streets. Such roadside bombs have proven the most lethal weapon used by Iraqi guerrillas against U.S. troops.

"We're not digging them up. That's their responsibility," Brig. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, a 1st Cavalry deputy commander, said of the Shiite militia that still controls portions of Sadr City.

The revelation came during recent discussions between commanders in the 1st Cavalry Division, responsible for security in Baghdad, and leaders of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Al-Sadr's one-time rebel group has handed in multiple truckloads of heavy weapons in an unprecedented disarmament that has been under way for more than a week.

Hammond said militia leaders told the Army they also plan to remove the buried bombs.

The disarming of the Mahdi Army, if it takes hold, leaves the U.S. military freer to concentrate on a widely expected assault on Fallujah.

Iraqi and U.S. officials have long suggested an assault on the city west of Baghdad will begin after the U.S. presidential election Nov. 2.

The Mahdi Army fought gritty urban battles with U.S. troops in April and August that saw more than a thousand killed.

In Sadr City, law enforcement melted away in the face of Mahdi militia assaults. Only 500 police remain in the neighborhood, which has been largely under control of the Shiite rebels for months. Those police, Chiarelli said, are "outmanned, outgunned and, until recently, they're out-led" by al-Sadr and his militia.