"February was the deadliest month in Iraq because you had more than 250 Iraqis killed, most of them from the police," interior ministry spokesman General Raad al-Naimi said on Monday.

In the latest violence, two bombers rammed an explosives-packed white Oldsmobile on Monday morning into a police station in the ethnic tinderbox city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, killing at least seven policemen and wounding dozens.
 
"All of the attacks are against policemen and civilians, and not the American forces," al-Naimi said.

"It is not difficult to find US soldiers but they want to attack Iraqis because they don't want stability in this country," before the 30 June date for the end of the American-led occupation, al-Naimi charged.

US officials blame foreign fighters whom they accuse of trying to spark a civil war among Iraq's fractious ethnic groups.

The trend towards targeting Iraqis rather than the occupation forces began in August with the assassination of supreme Shia leader Ayat Allah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim in a car bombing that also killed at least 82 others in the southern city of Najaf.

That attack fuelled the re-emergence of militias among the country's Shia majority.

Self-defence

Like the Kurdish minority in the north, the Shias are loath to give up what they regard as their right to self-defence after years of persecution under Saddam, whose regime crumbled last April.

Most of those killed are members of
the Iraqi police force

The guerrillas intensified their campaign against Iraqis in September with the fatal shooting of interim Governing Council member Akila al-Hashimi. Five Baghdad police stations were bombed in coordinated attacks the next month.

US military officers warned the insurgents were starting to target civilians after the New Year's Eve bombing of a popular Baghdad restaurant that left eight people dead.

Over the following weeks, the insurgency picked up the pace of attacks on civilians and security forces seen as collaborating with the occupiers.

On 18 January, a car bomb killed 25 Iraqis, most of them working for the Americans, in an assault on the front gate to Saddam's main Baghdad palace, now the US-led occupation force's headquarters.

And on 1 February, two men strapped with explosives entered the headquarters of the two main Kurdish parties in the northern city of Arbil, killing at least 105 people.

Iraq's future

The attacks came as Iraq's political parties debated the country's future shape and the Kurds were refusing to relinquish security control of their northern enclave and to dissolve their Peshmerga militia fighters.

More than 50 people were killed in a car
bombing on 10 February in Iskandariya

On 10 February, the insurgents struck again.

At least 55 people were killed and 67 injured in a car bombing outside a police station in Iskandariya, south of Baghdad, mostly men lining up to apply for jobs with the police.

A day later, the insurgents sent out another bomber who exploded a car by an army centre in Baghdad as volunteers queued to sign up for the US-trained New Iraqi Army, leaving 47 more dead and at least 48 wounded.
 
Last Wednesday, two car bombs struck a Polish military base by the central city of Hilla, killing at least seven Iraqis and wounding dozens, including 58 occupation soldiers.

Main target

In addition to those bold attacks, there have been almost daily killings of policemen and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) officers, raising the Iraqi death toll even higher.

A trade ministry civil servant and a Sunni Muslim religious leader were assassinated in Baghdad last week.

"The bottom line is clearly terrorist elements in Iraq are undertaking a programme that is calculated to intimidate Iraqi citizens. The main target appears to be Iraqi security forces," said US army Colonel William Darley.

"The bombs are still manufactured pretty crudely ... but there is an emphasis on attacking people who are innocent and defenceless."