| The New York Times
Bremer Is Increasing Pressure for a Quick End to Iraqi Uprisings
By JOHN F. BURNS and CHRISTINE HAUSER April 19, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 18 — With no sign of a breakthrough in talks with rebels in Falluja and Najaf, the leader of the American occupation appeared to move closer on Sunday to a military showdown, saying that the rebels' failure to submit to American demands would necessitate decisive action against those who "want to shoot their way to power."
"They must be dealt with, and they will be dealt with," the administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, said, breaking a week of silence on the confrontation with Moktada al-Sadr, an anti-American Shiite cleric, in Najaf and Sunni Muslim insurgents in Falluja. Mr. Bremer spoke of the need to bring an early end to the standoffs, to return Iraq to the political path the United States has mapped out, starting with the formal return of sovereignty on June 30.
Mr. Bremer spoke on a weekend when at least 10 American marines and soldiers were killed. The deaths, announced Sunday, pushed American troop deaths in April to more than 90, higher than the 82 who were killed in November, the largest number until this month. Nearly 700 American soldiers have been killed since the invasion of Iraq began 13 months ago.
Unofficial counts based on tallies taken at hospitals and morgues have put Iraqi casualties so far in April, including insurgents and civilians, at about 1,000 killed.
The latest casualties announced by the American military command, all of which occurred on Saturday, included five marines killed in a 14-hour battle at a remote town on the Syrian border, and three soldiers who died in an ambush near the southern city of Diwaniya. The others were a soldier who died when an M1 Abrams tank rolled over in Baghdad, and another soldier who was electrocuted while working on a generator at an American base at Samarra, north of the capital.
The uprisings have posed the greatest challenge to American authority since the invasion, and officials, worried at times about losing control, have teetered uneasily between confrontation and conciliation. American troops have been held back in Falluja and Najaf to allow mediation, but American generals have said they will use force if the talks drag on without result.
On Sunday, Mr. Bremer, urged by his aides to speak out strongly after an unusual week in which he said little publicly about the crisis, added his voice to those of the generals by saying that the uprising would have to be ended if Iraq's "future of hope" was to be secured.
"Iraq's democratic future is challenged by violent minorities," Mr. Bremer said. He is the principal architect of the plan to return sovereignty to Iraq in about 10 weeks as the first step in a political process intended to produce a fully elected government under a permanent constitution by January 2006.
Mr. Bremer blamed former members of Saddam Hussein's forces, including his Republican Guard and his secret intelligence agency, the mukhabarat, and members of Mr. Sadr's militia force, known as the Mahdi Army, saying they were "trying to stop the process that leads to elections, to a government that respects the rights of all."
"They want to shoot their way to power," he said.
Aides say Mr. Bremer has worked intensively behind the scenes to allay military impatience within the American military command over the standoffs and to give Iraqi negotiators as much time as possible to find a peaceful solution. But the aides say Mr. Bremer, too, believes that meeting the June 30 transfer date may require a decisive show of force, at least in Falluja, and that it is time for Iraqis who do not want their country to slide into chaos to speak up more forcefully against the insurgents.
American commanders clearly favor a solution in Najaf that disarms Mr. Sadr's militiamen without requiring American troops to enter the city, which is sacred to Iraq's religious Shiites. Powerful Shiite clerics, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, considered the country's most influential religious figure, have intervened with Mr. Sadr in a bid to have him back down and spare the city an invasion.
But the American calculations in Falluja appear to favor military action if the Sunni Muslim insurgents there continue resisting American demands that they quit the city.
Marine commanders besieging the city have warned a delegation from Falluja shuttling to an American base outside the city that they will not tolerate for long the casualties being taken by the marines through breaches of the weeklong cease-fire.
It was partly to combat the political apathy that has set in among many ordinary Iraqis that Mr. Bremer summoned members of the Iraqi Governing Council, an advisory body, to the meeting inside the Americans' heavily protected command compound in Baghdad where he warned that military force might be needed to get the political timetable moving again.
He also used the occasion to appeal for some hard-headed thinking among Iraqis about the military challenges that lie beyond June 30, when 135,000 American troops will remain in Iraq, under at least the nominal authority of an Iraqi transitional government. The role of the American troops, and the independence their commanders will have from oversight by the transitional government, has become a major issue in the wake of the virtual collapse of crucial elements of the new American-trained Iraqi forces during the uprisings in Falluja and Najaf.
"Events of the past two weeks show that Iraq still faces security threats and needs outside help to deal with them," Mr. Bremer said. "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. Instead, Iraq and troops from many countries, including the United States, will be partners in providing the security Iraqis need."
American commanders say they have been encouraged by the military situation across much of the country beyond the confrontation zones in Falluja and Najaf, with levels of insurgent activity in much of the north and south at about the same level, or slightly higher, than they have been for several months. But a new shock came with the battle on Saturday at Qusaybah, right on the Syrian border, which had been considered a relatively pacified area.
The chief spokesman for the American command, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt,
said Iraqi insurgents and marines fought for about 14 hours in the
battle, which saw the insurgents using rockets, mortars and small-arms
fire in a carefully plotted sequence of ambushes. A
reporter for The
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, embedded with the Marine unit that suffered
the casualties, quoted Marine intelligence reports as saying that 300
insurgents from Falluja and Ramadi, a neighboring center of the Sunni
insurgency, had slipped into Qusaybah, 200 miles northwest of Falluja,
and right on the border with Syria.
The reporter, Ron Harris, said dozens of the insurgents died after they lured the marines out of their base in the neighboring town of Qaim by setting off a roadside bomb outside the former Baath Party headquarters.
As the marines arrived at the scene, he said, they were met with a hail of rocket-propelled grenades and mortar fire. A second Marine unit rushing to the scene was also ambushed, from homes along the route, causing the battle to widen and rage on past nightfall, with American attack helicopters strafing insurgent positions and other American helicopters ferrying the American casualties back to the Marine base at Qaim.
Top Generals Appointed in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 18 (AP) — Iraq's new defense minister appointed a Kurd, a Sunni Muslim and a Shiite as his top generals on Sunday, giving the country's main communities representation in the military's senior levels.
The minister is Ali Allawi, a Shiite civilian appointed by American officials two weeks ago. He appointed Gen. Babakir Zebari as the top general and his senior military adviser. General Zebari commanded Kurdish forces in northern Iraq for decades.
The chief of staff will be Gen. Amer al-Hashimi, a Sunni and a former officer in the Iraqi infantry until he retired in 1997. Lt. Gen. Daham al-Assal, a Shiite, will be the deputy chief of staff. He had the rank of major general in the previous military.