U.S. shifting security to Iraqi forces

Roadside bombing kills American soldier, injures 2

December 08, 2003|By Evan Osnos | Evan Osnos,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD - With July 1 as the target date for Iraqis to take the political helm of their country, Washington is moving swiftly to shift the dangerous and costly burden of security into Iraqis' hands.

As another U.S. soldier died in a roadside bombing in Mosul yesterday, the top U.S. general in Iraq outlined the growing effort to shift security "to Iraqi faces," including a decision to triple the size of Iraq's new civil defense forces in coming months.

The Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, a paramilitary unit designed to help hunt insurgents and foster communication with citizens, is expected to grow from 12,500 personnel to nearly 40,000 in the next four months, said Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. Those forces will support the growing Iraqi army, which is expected to reach 40,000 members by September.

The goal is to "put them at the forefront at every opportunity, so that they are in fact dealing with anti-coalition forces that are attacking their own people," Sanchez said at a briefing in Baghdad yesterday.

But critics of the administration and some Iraqis are questioning whether the move may be premature, particularly because U.S. officials predict that violence and sabotage are likely to escalate rather than decline as the new government achieves signs of progress.

Particularly contentious among Iraqis is the decision to create a counterinsurgency unit within the Civil Defense Corps that would incorporate former members of militia groups tied to Iraq's most powerful political parties. Independent lawmakers and minority groups fear that, in a nation with a dark history of state repression, the ex-militia members could become armed agents of political figures.

For months, U.S. officials had rejected Iraqi politicians' request that militias from the five largest parties be tapped for the new security apparatus. In recent weeks, though, U.S. officials warmed to the idea, particularly hoping to tap the parties' intelligence networks to help thwart the mounting insurgency.

In the roadside bombing yesterday, guerrillas detonated explosives as a U.S. military patrol passed through the center of Mosul, 250 miles north of Baghdad, killing one soldier and wounding two others from the 101st Airborne Division. Another blast Saturday derailed half of the cars on a freight train near Samarra. No one was injured.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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