Blasts target Baghdad police

Speaking from the United Arab Emirates, Bayan Baker Solagh told the country’s official WAM news service that the women had infiltrated the police force to carry out the blasts, the worst on Iraqi security forces in weeks.

“This proves the existence of internal infiltrations that are difficult to control,” Mr Solagh was quoted as saying.

The minister deplored the vulnerability of Iraq’s fledgling police service but said the government was “hesitant to carry out large-scale purges for fear of sparking backlashes.”

His statement contradicted an unverified internet message posted by al-Qaeda in Iraq claiming that two ‘brothers’ blew themselves up at the academy which it said gave “diplomas to dogs who spill the blood and maul the bodies of Sunnis.”

The first blast tore through the complex at around 12:45 pm local time (8:45 pm AEDT) as police cadets were going to lunch after shooting practice, police trainee Nizal Mahmoud Khalaf told the Reuters news agency.

According to the US military, Iraqi police officers and students ran for shelter in a bunker thinking the assault was coming from outside but another bomber was waiting there before detonating the second device.

At least 72 others were injured in the explosions, which came on a day of multiple attacks across the country.

Authorities said three people died and at least 20 more were hurt in a suicide bombing at a Baghdad café, just hours after the academy was targeted.

Further north, four people were killed when mobs in six towns attacked members of a Kurdish Islamic party who were campaigning ahead of next week’s parliamentary election.

Groups of angry youths reportedly threw stones and set fire to party buildings.

One senior official of the Kurdistan Islamic Union was among the victims.

Meanwhile, a militant group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq has reportedly threatened to kill an American contract worker unless prisoners are released from the nation’s jails and compensation is paid to the restive Sunni-dominated province of Al-Anbar.

Arabic television network al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape showing a blond man with his arms behind his back and seated on a chair, and the cover of a US passport and a bank card bearing the name Ronald Schulz.

If confirmed, Mr Schulz is the second American to be kidnapped in less than two weeks.

On November 26, Tom Fox, 54, was captured along with three other members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams – Briton Norman Kember, 74, and Canadians, James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32.

However, US President George W Bush has repeated his strong stand against paying ransom demands.

“We of course don’t pay ransom for any hostages, what we will do of course is use our intelligence gathering to see if we can help locate them,” President Bush told reporters in Washington.

“We will bring these people to justice, we will hunt the down along with our Iraqi friends and at the same time spread democracy,” he added.

But US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has promised US assistance to Germany in seeking the release of German hostage Susanne Osthoff.

Meanwhile, inside Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone, a fourth day of emotionally-charged testimonies was heard in the trial of ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants.

Five witnesses gave evidence relating to the alleged massacre of 148 civilians in the village of Dujail 23 years ago after a failed attempt on Saddam’s life.

A woman, identified only as ‘Witness A’, addressed the court from behind a screen and told of her chilling experience at the hands of intelligence officers during fours years of detention in Baghdad’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

At the age of 16, the woman said a man had order her to undress before hitting her with a gun, lashing her with cables and giving her electric shocks.

“My youth… was destroyed,” she said.

Another woman, ‘Witness B’, now aged in her 70s, spoke during a closed session of her detention for four months with her husband and seven children in 1981.

‘Witness C’ described beatings he received during 19 days of detention at intelligence headquarters in Baghdad, where he said he was tortured with electric shocks and given only a small plate of food to share with four others.

Defendant Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam’s half-brother and former head of the feared Mukhabarat intelligence service hit back at the claims saying the man had confused security with intelligence agents.

“It was under security forces, the intelligence had nothing to do with anything,” Barzan said.

The accused also derided the witness’s effort to ensure his anonymity, saying: “if he is scared, will this curtain protect him? He is known and I know him. It’s not difficult to find out who he is.”

Saddam Hussein resumed his angry tirades which have characterised the trial since it began on October 19 when all eight pleaded not guilty to the charges.

“Our clothes are dirty. We cannot wash, nor smoke,” the former dictator complained, calling his treatment ‘terrorism’ and saying neither he nor his ‘companions’ were afraid of execution.

But on hearing that the session would continue the following day, Saddam shouted that he would not return.

“I will not come to an unjust court. Go to hell.”