BAGHDAD, Iraq — Amid growing indications that coalition troops may be the targets of at least one trained assassin, cash rewards have been offered to Iraqi citizens who provide information on those attacking British and American forces.

At a pair of news conferences Tuesday, coalition officials discussed the rewards and continued to assert that they don’t believe fugitive former leader Saddam Hussein is directing the attacks.

“They are conducted, however, with considerable professionalism,” said L. Paul Bremer, chief administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Bremer admitted that a second audiotape reportedly released by the ousted Iraqi strongman Tuesday might be spurring on those attacking coalition troops.

“I would really prefer for him to be in our custody or be dead,” Bremer said.

Coalition forces continue to be the focus of more than a dozen attacks in the country every day. Coalition officials say that number must be put in context, because there are more than 2,000 patrols conducted in the country each day, and coalition soldiers man hundreds of strategic sites around the clock.

Asked at an earlier press conference if he is particularly concerned about the hitman-like tactics used against coalition troops and a British journalist who was killed last week, the top American adviser to the Iraqi police indicated he wasn’t.

“I don’t think it’s any more of a challenge than we have in going after anyone who attacks a coalition member,” said Bernard Kerik, a former New York City police commissioner and now the coalition’s senior political adviser to the Ministry of Interior.

As to whether the same person was carrying out the attacks — generally involving a shot to the back of the head at close range and then a quick escape into a crowd — Kerik admitted that “there are obviously certain patterns that seem to be alike.”

Bremer went a step further at his news conference: “The assassination of one of our soldiers [at Baghdad University] was the eighth with the same MO in the last eight weeks.”

The news conference ended before he could be asked to expand on those comments. Kerik had said earlier that the matter was under investigation by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command and the Iraqi police.

The rewards the coalition is offering — a minimum of $2,500 if the information leads to an arrest of those attacking coalition troops or Iraqi police — come on the heels of huge offers to get Saddam and his two sons.

Those rewards, with a potential value of $55 million, are similar to the one issued for al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden that has yet to be collected.

Bremer didn’t seem to think that Saddam would elude U.S. capture for as long.

“We will eventually capture or kill him,” he said.

Asked how an Iraqi citizen could collect a reward for Saddam or one for helping to arrest those attacking troops, Kerik said they could visit an Iraqi police station or talk to coalition forces. Word of the rewards has been put on posters, broadcast on local TV stations and mentioned frequently in the Arabic media.

Iraqi police effective, Kerik says

BAGHDAD, Iraq — It might seem like it to some, but coalition forces aren’t alone in trying to bring peace and stability to Iraq.

“The Iraqi police are doing a tremendous job in their attempt to secure the city and country and a lot of that goes unnoticed,” Bernard Kerik, the coalition’s senior political adviser to the Ministry of Interior, said at a Tuesday news conference.

Kerik listed seven instances in a three-week period ending Sunday where a special police unit had arrested suspected war criminals, seized weapons and large sums of money, and helped break up illegal enterprises.

That force is headed by Hikmat Ibrahim, commandant of the Iraqi police academy. He attended the news conference with Kerik, telling his audience in Arabic the police force was simply protecting the people of Iraq by performing everyday missions.

Some of those officers have lost their lives doing so. An attack Saturday in Ramadi killed seven police recruits who had just completed training under U.S. supervision.

“That attack has done nothing but make them stronger and more dedicated,” Kerik said of the Iraqi police force.

He said the number of police across the country — 31,000 with about a quarter in Baghdad alone — continues to grow. When Kerik took his position seven weeks ago, he said there were nine functioning stations in the capital city. That number has grown to 34.

“There will eventually be around 60,” he said.

— Kent Harris

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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