Rumsfeld watches training of Iraq's new security forces

Military says attacks on U.S. troops decline

December 07, 2003|By John Hendren | John Hendren,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld saw firsthand the U.S.-led coalition's strategy of turning over security to Iraqis in a sweep through the nation yesterday, as military officials lauded a precipitous drop in attacks on American troops even as they acknowledged that it was likely the result of poor weather and the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The Pentagon chief focused much of his visit on briefings and demonstrations of the fledgling Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, one of four security forces set up by the occupying coalition.

The Pentagon's strategy in Iraq is to increasingly turn control of security - police, border patrol and military actions - to newly established Iraqi agencies that, in the case of the civil defense corps, often receive less than one month's training.

With 140,000 Iraqi border patrol and police officers, paramilitary troops, building guards and other security forces in place, Rumsfeld said, "they are increasingly taking over security in this country."

He trusted his safety to members of the corps, entering a Baghdad warehouse in which roughly 50 new recruits toting AK-47s were in their first days of training.

During his first stop of the day, in the northern city of Kirkuk, Rumsfeld met with a group of recruits and their commanders in crisp new khaki uniforms at a lavish home confiscated from an unidentified Iraqi on the list of most-wanted former regime officials.

The Iraqi civil defense corps is coming along "very fast," he told the recruits, giving Americans confidence that it "can make a tremendous difference."

"Foreign forces are necessarily unnatural," Rumsfeld told reporters later after visiting the training center at an 82nd Airborne Division site in Baghdad. "They ought not to be in a country."

During the visit, which was roughly scheduled a week earlier but not announced publicly, Rumsfeld met briefly with the coalition's top civilian administrator, L. Paul Bremer III; U.S. Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid; and a who's who of the commanding U.S. generals in the postwar nation.

In Kirkuk, Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno of the 4th Infantry Division briefed Rumsfeld on his area of responsibility in the volatile Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad, as did the 1st Armored Division's Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who is in charge of security in the sprawling capital.

Rumsfeld was joined throughout the day by the top commander on the ground, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.

Several senior military officials said attacks on U.S. personnel have plunged from nearly 40 a day in early last month to 19 daily over the past week.

Nevertheless, they acknowledged, it is not clear that the decline will endure, and many suggested that attacks would likely increase during the hajj holiday next month.

The coalition death toll soared during Ramadan, making last month the costliest for the United States and its allies since the invasion of Iraq more than eight months ago.

Dempsey said that four of 10 known guerrilla cells were disabled last month, including one that he said was responsible for the October rocket attack on the Al Rashid Hotel that killed a U.S. Army colonel while Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz was in the building.

The 1st Armored is still pursuing intelligence that it hopes will allow the division to crush the remaining six cells, he said.

The arrests have diminished but not ended the insurgents' ability to launch attacks because their leadership and financiers remain at large, Dempsey said.

Nevertheless, Sanchez painted a portrait of gradual success for Rumsfeld's third visit since President Bush declared major combat over May 1.

"The main message to the secretary is primarily that we're being successful, our troops are prepared and we're making a lot of progress," Sanchez said.

"We definitely made an impact against them and forced them to slow the pace of their operations."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.