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INSURGENT VIOLENCE

3 policemen killed at funeral

Ukraine starts withdrawal of 1,650 forces

BAGHDAD -- Gunmen shot to death three policemen and wounded a fourth yesterday at a funeral procession in the northern city of Mosul, police said, while Ukraine withdrew 150 servicemen from Iraq, starting a gradual pullout that officials have said will be completed by October.

The attack occurred as police were taking part in a procession for a colleague's wife and two children who died in a roadside bomb attack in Mosul a day earlier, policeman Ammar Hussein said.

Insurgents led by Sunni Arabs, a minority that was dominant under Saddam Hussein, are targeting Shi'ite funeral processions and ceremonies in an apparent campaign to provoke a sectarian war. Last month, suicide bombers attacked Shi'ite mosques during the commemoration of Ashoura, killing nearly 100 people.

On Friday, relatives gathered in small groups to bury 50 people killed a day earlier by a suicide bomber in Mosul on Thursday, after canceling a mass funeral procession for fear of another attack.

The Ukrainian company that was based near Suwayrah, 25 miles south of Baghdad, left Iraq and was expected to return home by Tuesday, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said.

Earlier this month, President Viktor Yushchenko and top defense officials ordered a phased withdrawal of Ukraine's 1,650-strong contingent from the US-led coalition in Iraq.

Ukraine has lost 17 soldiers in Iraq, and the deployment is deeply unpopular among people in the former Soviet republic.

Ukraine plans to pull about 590 more of its soldiers out of Iraq by May and the rest by October, the Defense Ministry said. Yushchenko said March 1 that the pullout would be completed by Oct. 15, but Defense Minister Anatoly Gritsenko later said Ukraine might leave some troops in Iraq two months beyond that deadline.

The New York Times reports today that the looting that occurred at some of Iraq's most important weapons installations after Baghdad fell nearly two years ago seems to have been highly organized and systematic. Sami al- Araji, Iraq's deputy minister of industry, told the newspaper that the plants included those that held high-precision equipment capable of making parts for nuclear arms.

The skillful thieves used cranes and flatbed trucks to dismantle and cart off the equipment, said Araji, who cited reports from government employees and officials who either worked at or lived near as many as 10 of the sites.

He said he did not know where the equipment had ended up. But his account raised the possibility that the machinery had made its way to the black market or was in the hands of foreign governments, the Times reported.

Also yesterday, Bulgarian military investigators said US troops who killed a Bulgarian soldier had opened fire without warning but did not ''deliberately" kill Private Gardi Gardev on March 4. The shooting occurred the same day US forces killed an Italian intelligence agent and wounded a journalist who had just spent a month as the hostage of insurgents. The shooting strained ties with two of the Bush administration's rare European partners in Iraq.

''Although the US soldiers guarding a communication site have not acted deliberately, they have failed to identify the objects and opened fire without firing warning shots," the Bulgarian Defense Ministry investigators said in a statement.

Bulgaria has a 460-member infantry battalion serving under Polish command in southern Iraq, and the liberal government of Prime Minister Simeon Saxe- Coburg-Gotha has said it wants to keep the troops there.

Iraq's main Shi'ite and Kurdish coalitions have agreed on a deal divvying up the top three posts in the new government, but differences remained over the deployment of Arab troops in ethnic Kurdish areas.

A senior member of the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance, Ahmed Chalabi, traveled late Friday to Sulaymaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad, for talks with the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Jalal Talabani, who is slated to be Iraq's next president under the agreement.

''There is an agreement on the basic principles. But there is not final agreement on all the details," alliance member Ali al-Faisal said. ''This visit was on invitation by Talabani to Chalabi. The atmosphere was positive."

The deal would give the Kurds one major Cabinet post -- one fewer than they demanded -- but they agreed to support the alliance's candidate for prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. On the issue of territory, officials in both political camps said the deal provides for the eventual return of 100,000 Kurdish refugees to Kirkuk. Although the Kurds agreed to disband their peshmerga militia and incorporate it into Iraq's army and security forces, they have opposed Arab troops being deployed in the north -- one of the few remaining points to be worked out.

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