Iraq: Doubts About Security Force

The Iraqi flag flies above a burned-out bus at the scene where several schoolchildren and teachers died during an explosion in the center of Basra, southern Iraq, Wednesday, April 21, 2004. Click here for a photo essay of the Basra Bombings. AP

A top U.S. military commander said that 10 percent of Iraqi security forces "worked against" U.S. forces during the past three weeks' flare-up of fighting in Fallujah and the southern city of Najaf, a sign of how difficult it will be for the United States to assemble an Iraqi army and police force.

Another 40 percent of the Iraqi security forces walked off the job because they didn't want to fight fellow Iraqis, said Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division.

Dempsey said it was "very difficult" to convince security forces that the insurgents they are fighting are "killing fellow Iraqis and fellow Muslims," he said in an interview beamed by satellite from Baghdad to Washington.

The failure of Iraqi security forces to fight is significant because Washington's exit strategy depends on moving U.S. troops out of cities and over responsibility for security to Iraqi forces.

Meanwhile, coalition officials said Thursday that it was too early to blame al Qaeda for simultaneous suicide car bombings in Basra that killed dozens of people, reviving the issue of how much of a role foreign militants have in Iraq's violence.

A spokesman for British forces responsible for the Basra area gave a death toll of 50 — 20 of them children — for Wednesday's blasts, lower than the toll of 68 reported by Basra's governor.

In other developments:

  • National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is making another trip to the Capitol on Thursday to brief Republican lawmakers about the situation in Iraq.

  • The Pentagon's top general said Wednesday that increased violence in Iraq is pushing the cost of the war over budget, threatening a $4 billion shortfall by late summer. The Bush administration asked for no new Iraq money in this year's defense budget.

  • Human Rights Watch criticized the United States, saying that U.S. authorities had failed to provide clear or consistent information on the treatment of some 10,000 civilian detainees. "Many people have been held for months without knowing why," said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice program.

  • Two major contractors helping to rebuild Iraq have suspended most of their work, The New York Times reports. The moves by General Electric and Siemens could slow reconstruction.

  • The government that takes over June 30 will have only "limited sovereignty" and won't be able to give orders to coalition troops that remain, officials say. The Washington Post also reports that in a significant reversal, the coalition is rehiring former Iraqi military officers and Baathists to positions in the interim administration.

  • Islamic countries urged the United Nations to return to Iraq and take "a central role" in restoring peace and security, citing concerns about heavy civilian casualties and alleged abuses by the U.S.-led occupying forces.

  • A group that describes itself as "anti-American" is threatening to attack diplomatic compounds, airlines and public transportation systems in eight countries that support the U.S. or have plans to send troops to Iraq.

  • Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says troops from his country will likely remain in Iraq for several years. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australian troops should remain until Iraq is secure.

  • The top Marine commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. James Conway, said hundreds of foreign fighters are thought to be holed up alongside Iraqi guerrillas in Fallujah.

    In Fallujah, insurgents attacked U.S. Marines, prompting a clash that killed 20 guerrillas. And U.S. military officials said residents were turning in mostly unusable weapons, undermining a crucial part of an agreement aimed at ending the fighting and lifting the U.S. siege of the city.

    "These may be early indications that the insurgents may not be living up to the requirements of the agreement," said Marine Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne.

    Fighting in Fallujah has killed at least seven U.S. Marines and more than 600 Iraqis, mostly civilians, according to the city hospital.

    The links between foreign fighters and homegrown Iraqi guerrillas — and question of which are in the forefront of Iraq's violence — has long been unclear. Out of 2,000 suspected guerrillas held by U.S.-led forces, only 50 are foreigners.

    It was still too early to say who was behind the Basra attacks, a spokesman for the British forces responsible for the area said Thursday.

    "We can't discount al Qaeda, we can't discount former regime loyalists. It is too early to start speculating," Capt. Hisham Halawy, spokesman for the British forces, said in Kuwait on Thursday.

    Suicide attackers detonated five car bombs — all but one of them simultaneously — targeting police buildings in Basra, Iraq's second largest city Wednesday, striking rush-hour crowds just as buses carrying kindergartners and school girls were passing by.

    Police discovered two car bombs before they were detonated and arrested three men in the vehicles, said Basra Gov. Wael Abdul-Latif

    Abdul-Latif said 68 people were killed, including 16 children, and he said he suspected al Qaeda was behind the attack.

    But Halawi said a review of the hospitals revised the numbers. "After we got to hospitals, the number of those killed is 50, including 20 children," he said, adding that five coalition soldiers were wounded, one seriously.

    Basra is overwhelmingly Shiite and the last major suicide attack also targeted Shiites: a series of suicide bombers who near simultaneously detonated explosives strapped to their bodies among thousands of pilgrims at holy shrines in Karbala and Baghdad on March 2. At least 181 people were killed.

    U.S. coalition officials said they believed those attacks were planned by a Jordanian al Qaeda linked militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who they say plans a campaign of massive attacks on Shiites in order to spark a civil war between Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority and Sunni minority.

    Abdul-Latif pointed to the similarities between that attack and the Basra bombings in making his link to al Qaeda.

    But a U.S. counterterrorism official said it was "just premature to draw any conclusions."
    • Joel Roberts

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