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Police Chief of Beiji, Iraq, Removed

Police Chief of Beiji, Iraq, Removed

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BEIJI, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. forces removed the police chief of Beiji from office Monday after a weekend of fighting and riots between pro-Saddam Hussein demonstrators, Iraqi police and U.S. soldiers in this important oil refining city north of Baghdad.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, U.S. troops fired in the air to disperse hundreds of ex-soldiers who gathered for a third straight day to complain they had not been paid as promised. Coalition said more than 320,000 former Iraqi soldiers had received one-time payments of $40 after the army was disbanded but some Iraqis were refused payment because they could not prove they had been in the military.

American troops were in the streets of Beiji early Monday, crouched behind machine guns in firing positions. There were U.S. snipers on the roof of the burned out police station and Bradley fighting vehicles patrolled the city.

Apparently to appease the angry citizenry, the U.S. command in the region reinstated Hamid al-Qaifi, the former police chief who had been elected by tribal leaders after Saddam's ouster. The Americans removed him in May and replaced him with Ismail al-Jabouri, who in turn was replaced Monday on orders from the U.S. 4th Infantry Division which controls the area.

"The American soldiers were mostly firing when they were fired at," said former police Maj. Ashraf al-Qaifi. "Most of the fighting was between the police and the young armed men."

He and the other witnesses interviewed by The Associated Press estimated between 1,000 and 2,000 young and very well-armed men engaged the police and the U.S. soldiers.

A member of the group, 23-year-old Jamal Saleh, said on Monday that he recognized many of the fellow demonstrators as members of the Saddam Fedayeen militia.

The violence began Saturday after a peaceful demonstration against al-Jabouri, the American-appointed police chief. Saleh said demonstrators carried pictures of Saddam and chanted "We sacrifice our blood for you."

"All of us here loved Saddam. If I ever see him, I will never leave his side," Saleh said.

A policeman approached one demonstrator and tore a Saddam picture from his hand, triggering the riot, Saleh said.

Residents said about two dozen mostly young men with their faces covered with Arab headdresses fought with local police. In the continuing melee, armed men with Kalashnikov assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and grenades attacked three Turkish fuel tanker trucks, two of which were totally burned. One of the two trucks crashed through the wall of a hospital and sat in courtyard Monday.

The people of Tikrit believe the Turkish drivers are smuggling cheap gasoline out of the country and selling it at a big profit in Turkey.

Ahmed Samran, and 18-year-old policeman, said that most of Beiji's 300-strong police force fled the city Saturday.

The rioting resumed Sunday morning. Al-Qaifi, the former police major, said he saw men who had fought police the night before firing a rocket-propelled grenade at the mayor's office. It was gutted by fire, with fresh graffiti on the walls that read: "Saddam is the symbol of all Arabs."

Police headquarters, heavily fortified with sandbags and barbed wire, also was attacked before fighting ended early Sunday afternoon, only to resume after sundown and continue until well after midnight Monday.

Residents reported hearing late-night battles with rocket-propelled grenades, grenades and light arms.

At midday Monday a dozen young men, some looking as young as mid-teens, gathered menacingly on the main road in Beiji where the police headquarters and city council buildings are located.

On the southern outskirts of Beiji, at least a dozen Turkish trucks were parked, apparently fearing to drive into town.

Beiji, home to Iraq's largest oil refinery, has a population of about 60,000 and is 145 miles north of Baghdad on the main road to Mosul, Iraq's third largest city.

Ahmed Samran, and 18-year-old policeman, said that most of Beiji's 300-strong police force fled the city Saturday.

In an interview published Monday by The New York Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the United States now faces the possibility of a prolonged and futile war in Iraq similar to the one that the Soviets fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Putin warned that Iraq could "become a new center, a new magnet for all destructive elements" and that "a great number of different terrorist organizations" have already been drawn into the country since saddam's regime fell.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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