BAGHDAD, Iraq - In a bid to curb sectarian violence, Iraq's government plans to restructure the capital's security forces by putting all police officers and paramilitary soldiers under one commander, an official said Thursday.
Iraqis in the new National Police force also would wear a newly designed uniform and drive similar patrol cars, said Col. Ali Rashid, a police supervisor at the Ministry of Interior. He said the reorganization would begin soon.
Currently, Baghdad is filled with tens of thousands of police officers, soldiers and paramilitary troops whose identities and allegiances often are not known.
In addition to widespread attacks by Sunni Arab-led insurgents, Baghdad is rife with Shiite militias and death squads that carry out sectarian reprisal killings, often dumping the bodies of their tortured victims on city streets.
In many cases, witnesses and authorities say such attacks are carried out by men wearing police uniforms, leading Sunni Arabs to argue that Iraq's Shiite-led Interior Ministry at least tacitly condones the violence.
Police, paramilitary forces and Iraqi soldiers currently wear a wide variety of uniforms. Some even appear in a combination of civilian and work clothes. Government officials have been saying for the last year that this problem must somehow be addressed.
The need for reform is obvious in Baghdad, where increased sectarian killings have forced many Sunnis and Shiites to flee their homes or to guard their neighborhoods. Residents often don't even know whether the police they see on the streets are officers or impersonators planning to kidnap or kill them.
In the latest violence to shake the country, gunmen kidnapped 10 people Thursday in two villages in northern Iraq, but U.S. and Iraqi forces saved seven of the hostages in a gunbattle, police said.
The attack began when gunmen seized 10 young men from their homes in the two mostly Sunni Arab villages near Baqouba. Local sheiks and citizens confronted them, and Iraqi and U.S. forces rushed to the scene, police said.
Five gunmen were wounded and 36 were captured in the fighting. Seven of the hostages were freed, but some of the gunmen escaped with the other three, police said.
A U.S. soldier also died when a bomb struck an Army convoy southwest of Baghdad, the military said. The attack raised to at least 2,426 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
On Wednesday, President Jalal Talabani urged Iraq's feuding factions to unite against surging crime and terrorism, as the government reported 952 people were killed nationwide last month in "terrorist" violence - most of them civilians.
Talabani, a former Kurdish guerrilla commander, said Iraqis feel "shock, dismay and anger" at the ongoing slaughter.
"What is asked of the political parties is that they strenuously and clearly condemn these crimes, regardless of who the perpetrators are," Talabani said in a statement. "Clerics - be they Muslim, Christians, Shiite or Sunni - from all factions should also issue edicts rejecting these acts."
Figures from the ministries of health and interior showed that during April, 686 civilians were killed in politically motivated violence, along with 190 insurgents, 54 policemen and 22 Iraqi soldiers.
Eighty-two coalition troops - including 76 Americans, three Italians, one Romanian, one Britain and one Australian - died in Iraq during the same period.
Incoming Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Tuesday that he had almost finished assembling a Cabinet, the final step in establishing a national unity government. U.S. officials had predicted insurgents would step up attacks to try to block the new administration.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said al-Maliki would soon launch a four-part plan to restore order by securing Baghdad, Basra and eight other cities, promoting reconciliation, building public confidence in the police, and army and disbanding sectarian militias.
Khalilzad did not elaborate on how the new security push would differ from past efforts to stop violence.