Iraqis are learning the deadly cost of working for the US

In the northern city of Mosul, Mustafa al-Sheikh, a businessman turned television producer, has just received a letter warning that he will be killed if he works with the Americans.

Mr Sheikh has been hired by the US military to make a film for local television lauding the Iraqi police in Mosul. He did not plan to tell the police about the death threats. "They cannot even defend themselves," he said.

Mr Sheikh is facing the same dilemma as tens of thousands of Iraqis working for the US forces. With unemployment at 70 per cent they have little choice. But they also know a job with the US military or civil administration means danger. "People here think that anybody who works for the Americans is a spy," Mr Sheikh said.

It is American casualties that make the headlines but the majority of those killed are Iraqis. Only four out of the 100 or so people killed in Iraq last weekend were non-Iraqi. The bombings in the Kurdish city of Arbil on Monday killed 67 people and wounded 267, US military officials said yesterday.

Mosul, a Sunni Arab city of 1.8 million people, had escaped the suicide bombers until last Saturday when a car exploded outside a police station. Nine people were killed.

Col Mohammed Khaeri, the police chief of Mosul province, said that 37 of his men had been killed and 105 wounded since the US reconstituted the police last year. He added: "One of our officers was shot and killed the day before yesterday. We asked his name but nobody could remember it." They later found out that he was called Salwan Jalami.

In the past two weeks two unarmed traffic policemen were shot dead not far from The Independent office in Baghdad. Another casualty in the same area was Abdullatif Ali al-Mayah, a human rights campaigner who opposed the occupation. It did not save him. His car was stopped by seven or eight men and he was shot. Competition for jobs is so intense that anybody promoted by the Coalition Provisional Authority or the Interim Iraqi Governing Council may be at risk from the person they replaced. Mr Sheikh suspected that the anti-American resistance wanted to kill him because people in the media thought he was taking work away from them. Sometimes the motives for killings are obscure. There has been a rash of killings of former senior bureaucrats in Saddam's government. "Nobody knows if they were killed because they were co-operating with the coalition or not co-operating," said the relative of one man who had just been shot.

The US plan for withdrawal of its troops is to hand over to Iraqis. Soldiers, police, the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps and security men are rapidly being trained. There are numerous checkpoints on the roads manned by Iraqis. The number of American troops is falling. In Mosul the 21,000 men of the 101st Airborne Division are being replaced by the 10,000 men of the Stryker Brigade.

It is not clear how Iraqi police will react with little or no US military support. The omens are not very good. On the road into Mosul from Baghdad there is an Iraqi police checkpoint. There is a picture of a young officer in police uniform. A message below said he had died a martyr. A policeman explained: "He was run over by an American tank."

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