|Bremer: Security Forces Won't
AP/fox April 19, 2004
Iraq — Iraqi security forces will not be ready to
protect the country
against insurgents by the June 30 handover of power, the top U.S.
administrator said Sunday — an assessment aimed at defending the
continued heavy presence of U.S. troops here even after an Iraqi
government takes over.
The unusually blunt comments from L. Paul Bremer (search) came amid a weekend of new fighting that pushed the death toll for U.S. troops in April to 99, already the record for a single-month in Iraq and approaching the number killed during the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein (search) last year.
The military had always planned to remain after June 30, when
U.S. is to handover sovereignty to Iraq. In recent months
officials acknowledged the transfer of security will be significantly
slower than hoped because Iraqi forces were not prepared.
But Bremer said the fighting across the country this month exposed the depth of the problems inside the security forces.
"Events of the past two weeks show that Iraq still faces security threats and needs outside help to deal with them. Early this month, the foes of democracy overran Iraqi police stations and seized public buildings in several parts of the country," he said. "Iraqi forces were unable to stop them."
"It is clear that Iraqi forces will not be able, on their own, to deal with these threats by June 30 when an Iraqi government assumes sovereignty," Bremer said in a statement issued by the U.S. coalition.
With U.S.-led forces fighting on two fronts and insurgent violence flaring elsewhere, at least 99 U.S. troops have been killed in combat since April 1. In the latest violence, five Marines and five soldiers were killed Saturday.
A total of 115 U.S. servicemembers were killed in combat from the start of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 until May 1, when President Bush declared major combat over. Until now, the single-month record for U.S. troops killed was 82, in November. Around 700 U.S. servicemen have died in Iraq.
Over the weekend, at least 40 Iraqis were killed, bringing the Iraqi death toll in April to more than 1,050.
Also Sunday, Spain's
prime minister ordered the withdrawal of
Spanish troops from Iraq as soon as possible, fulfilling a campaign
promise made after terrorist bombings that Al Qaeda militants said were
reprisal for Spain's support of the war.
Iraq's defense minister
— Ali Allawi (search),
a Shiite Muslim — appointed by U.S. officials two weeks ago, announced
his two top generals, a Sunni and a Kurd, establishing representatives
of the country's three main communities in the senior defense
The army's top general will be Gen. Babakir Zebari, who
Kurdish militiamen in the north for decades and fought alongside
coalition troops during last year's invasion. The chief of staff
be Amer al-Hashimi, a Sunni and former general in the Iraqi infantry
until he retired in 1997.
U.S. officials have been rebuilding the military from scratch, arranging the training of recruits and naming Allawi as its civilian head.
But the recent violence
has shown the weaknesses and conflicted
feelings of the armed forces. An army battalion refused to
Marines in the siege of Fallujah, saying they did not intend to fight
fellow Iraqis. During the Shiite militia uprising in the south,
police abandoned their stations, realizing they were badly outgunned or
sympathizing with the militia's cause.
In Husaybah, near the
Syrian border, insurgents ambushed a Marine
patrol Saturday morning, sparking a battle throughout the day with up
to 150 gunmen, Marine spokesman Lt. Eric Knapp said. Five
up to 30 insurgents were killed, he said. Hospital officials said
civilians were among the dead, as well as the town's police chief.
Fighting continued Sunday in three neighborhoods of Husaybah,
was sealed off by U.S. forces. It is located at the far end of
western Anbar province, a Sunni Muslim area that is also home to
Fallujah and Ramadi, two guerrilla strongholds.
Three soldiers were killed Saturday when their 1st Armored Division convoy was ambushed near the southern city of Diwaniyah. Another died when a roadside bomb exploded near a convoy in Baghdad, and a soldier assigned to the Marines was killed in action in western Iraq, separate from the fighting by the Syrian border.
A soldier also died in a tank rollover, and another was electrocuted in an accident in the northern city of Samarra.
Rockets aimed at a military camp in western Baghdad hit a nearby civilian area, killing two Iraqi civilians. Two U.S. civilian contractors and a soldier also were wounded.
U.S. officials and Fallujah representatives reported progress in negotiations on Friday and Saturday to ease violence in the 16-day Marine siege, when gunfire in the city all but halted. Talks were to resume Monday.
On Saturday, insurgents in a building opened fire on a U.S. tank, which returned fire and destroyed the building, located next to a mosque. Gunmen also fired from the mosque minaret.
Sunday, however, was quiet.
Meanwhile, U.S. forces struggled to maintain control of Iraq's highways, closing key roads because of insurgent violence.
The military announced that the highway to Jordan was closed
Baghdad's western entrance. The main route north was closed for a
42-mile stretch outside the capital, and a 90-mile section of the main
southern highway connecting Baghdad with Basra and Kuwait was shut
Guerrillas around Baghdad's outskirts have been targeting key military supply lines, forcing the military to rely more on aircraft to bring in supplies, though commanders say there are no serious shortages for any units.
The violence threatens to hamstring U.S. reconstruction efforts. More than 1,500 foreign engineers and building contractors have fled Iraq for fear of being abducted or killed, Iraqi Housing Minister Bayan Baqer said Sunday. Some 40 percent of the military's food, water and fuel supplies are delivered by private contractors.
U.S. Army convoys have added more armed escorts and have
routes and travel times, said Col. James P. Chambers, commander of the
Army's 13th Corps Support Command, which operates military supply
convoys that crisscross Iraq.
In Kuwait, where the U.S. 3rd Army is in charge of moving goods in and out of Iraq, more cargo is traveling on aircraft, said Army spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Johnson.
"Some soldiers may experience some shortages. The whole country is still a very dangerous place," Johnson said.
Also Sunday, a British soldier was wounded in fighting in the southern city of Amarah, a spokesman said. A military vehicle was seen burning while Iraqis nearby chanted slogans in favor of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.