Iraq 'On The Path' To Democracy

Caption US top administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer speaks during the inauguration of a recently refurbished generator at the Najaf power plant March 23, 2004 in Najaf, Iraq. (AP Photo/Scott Nelson/Pool)
With 100 days to go before Iraqi sovereignty, the country is "on the path to full democracy" and has made significant economic progress since the United States toppled Saddam Hussein a year ago, L. Paul Bremer, the top administrator in Iraq, said Wednesday.

"Almost a year after liberation, we should take heart in what has been accomplished," Bremer said in an outdoor speech in the Green Zone, the heavily protected area housing the coalition headquarters in the center of Baghdad.

But violence continued Wednesday. Insurgents attacked a U.S. military patrol west of Baghdad and an ensuing fight left three civilians dead and two U.S. soldiers injured, the U.S. military and Iraqi hospital officials said.

Three civilians died in a Baghdad mine blast and insurgents attacked two targets in Baghdad with rockets, wounding a civilian contractor. In Mosul, insurgents fired mortar rounds at a barracks of the U.S.-trained Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, killing two civilians and injuring six, the U.S. military said.

In the southern province of Babil, the police chief of Jalf al-Sakhr district, Maj. Yassin Ghdayeb, was shot and killed while on his way to work, local police officials said on condition of anonymity.

In other developments:

  • Iraq's main oil pipeline leading to the Gulf ruptured late Tuesday, spilling large amounts of oil that later caught fire. A local official said the break was believed to be due to poor maintenance. Rebels have repeatedly attacked oil pipelines in Iraq.
  • A spokesman for a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council said the council will investigate alleged corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program. The United Nations is already planning a probe.
  • Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari urged coalition forces not to withdraw troops from his country, saying extremists were still trying to disrupt progress more than a year after the U.S-led invasion. Spain's incoming prime minister has pledged to pull out his troops by June 30 unless the United Nations takes over the occupation.
  • In a warning to Americans, the State Department advised against travel to Iraq. "Remnants of the former Baath regime, transnational terrorists, and criminal elements remain active. Attacks against civilian targets throughout Iraq continue at a high rate," the warning read. It cited evidence that terrorists have targeted civil aviation.

    In a speech to Iraqi leaders and other delegates, Bremer listed the accomplishments of the U.S.-led coalition that is governing Iraq.

    Bremer said 200,000 Iraqis were now serving in security positions across the country; Iraqi has more electricity than it did before the war; more than 2,500 schools have been "rehabilitated;" and more than 3 million Iraqi children under age five had been vaccinated against polio and other diseases.

    "The economy is picking up steam," he said. "Unemployment is half what it was at liberation and possibly even lower."

    He also said he would set up an Iraqi Defense Ministry later this week, and establish three anti-corruption commissions as well as an independent panel to regulate publicly owned media.

    Bremer also cited the signing of an interim constitution as a key step toward the June 30 handover of power from the coalition to Iraqis.

    The most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq opposes that document.

    Bremer acknowledged that some Iraqi leaders were not fully satisfied, but praised members of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council for agreeing to a compromise in signing the document that he said enshrines religious freedom and other basic rights for all Iraqis.

    "Iraq is now on the path to full democracy in a united state at peace with its neighbors," he said.

    "One hundred days from now, Iraqis will be sovereign in their own land and responsible for their own future," Bremer said.

    However, there is no firm plan for what type of Iraqi government will take over on June 30, and the American military is expected to remain in Iraq long after the handover. Nearly 600 American troops have died during the war and occupation.

    Wednesday's fighting in the town of Fallujah, 32 miles west of Baghdad, left two civilian cars burned, bloodstains on the ground and bullet holes in walls, according to television footage.

    "American troops came under attack while they were patrolling in the main street," Fallujah resident Ahmed Ali said.

    The U.S. military said two "coalition personnel" were injured. The pair were flown from Fallujah to a combat hospital after attackers detonated a roadside bomb and raked their vehicle with gunfire, a U.S. official said.

    Muthana al-Jumeili, a doctor at Fallujah General Hospital, said three civilians died and three others were wounded. Fallujah is a hotbed of insurgent activity.

    The fighting came a day after assailants shot at a van carrying police recruits south of Baghdad, killing nine, while gunmen killed two policemen in the north. The slayings Tuesday were the latest to target police and other Iraqis who work with the U.S.-led occupation.

    On the eastern outskirts of Baghdad, three civilians — a 3-year-old boy, his grandmother and a male relative — were killed when an explosion destroyed the car they were riding in, according to relatives. Six other people were injured in the blast, which relatives said was caused by a mine in the road.

    Before dawn Wednesday, attackers fired a rocket that struck the Sheraton Hotel in Baghdad, where foreign contractors and journalists stay. The rocket hit a sixth-floor ledge and the explosion left the lobby strewn with glass.

    U.S. officials said there were no casualties. American soldiers protect the Sheraton, which is ringed by a concrete blast wall to ward off bombing attempts.

    Another rocket was fired into the headquarters of the coalition in Baghdad early Wednesday, wounding a contractor, a senior U.S. official said without elaborating.