Iraq on `path to democracy,' Bremer says

U.S. administrator admits security still top concern, says things are better

March 25, 2004|By Colin McMahon | Colin McMahon,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD - In a speech that was more pep talk than policy outline, chief U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III told the Iraqi people yesterday that a scheduled June 30 transfer of power would restore their sovereignty over a nation "on a path to full democracy, in a united state, at peace with its neighbors."

Bremer announced that he would set up an Iraqi Defense Ministry and a Cabinet-level National Security Committee this week. But most of the address, timed to mark the 100 days until the United States hands over sovereignty, served to extol accomplishments piled up since Saddam Hussein was toppled nearly a year ago.

The ruling coalition has rehabilitated more than 2,500 schools, Bremer said. Iraq's electricity supply is better today than it was before the war. More than 1 million Iraqis in this nation of 24 million now have phone service, also better than under Hussein. And 200,000 Iraqis are serving in the security forces, he said.

But inadequate security, Bremer acknowledged, remains the greatest threat to a successful transfer of power. Though guerrilla attacks on U.S. and other coalition soldiers have eased in recent weeks, bombings and assassinations of foreigners and of Iraqis working with the occupation have become more frequent and more deadly.

The roar of U.S. military helicopters on patrol overhead, which at one point drowned out Bremer's words during the outdoor speech, provided a reminder of the constant threat from insurgents who have vowed to drive "the infidels and invaders" out of Iraq.

And there was more violence.

Rockets hit the Sheraton hotel and the main U.S. compound in Baghdad early yesterday, wounding a foreign contractor, a U.S. official said. A roadside bombing during an ambush on an American patrol wounded two soldiers in Fallujah, and the subsequent firefight left three Iraqi civilians dead and three wounded.

Gunmen killed an Iraqi police chief in Musayyab, the southern town near where nine police cadets were shot to death Tuesday. And in the northern city of Mosul, roadside bombs wounded three Iraqi police officers and a civilian.

On the eastern outskirts of Baghdad, three civilians - a 3-year-old boy, his grandmother and a male relative - were killed when a mine exploded and destroyed the car they were riding in, according to relatives interviewed by the Associated Press. Six other people were wounded.

"Iraq's security is the first concern of Iraqi citizens - we hear it every day - and the top priority of the coalition," Bremer said.

The new Defense Ministry and the National Security Committee will start working immediately with coalition forces, Bremer said. But with so little time before the occupation authority is to be disbanded, no one expects the Iraqis to provide security on their own.

"After June 30 the countries of the coalition will continue their commitment to the Iraqi people's security and success," Bremer said. "Our military forces will become full partners with Iraq's sovereign government in providing security to the Iraqi people."

Which countries will retain a military presence in Iraq is under debate.

Spain's incoming prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has vowed to remove his nation's 1,300 soldiers unless the United Nations is given control over much of the occupation.

Zapatero met yesterday in Madrid with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Bremer said the commitment of U.S. taxpayers, who he said have contributed $19 billion to Iraq's reconstruction, would continue well after June 30. And he outlined the four-step process designed to provide Iraq a directly elected government no later than Dec. 15, 2005.

"We're moving at rocket speed," said Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, a Shiite member of the Iraqi Governing Council. "The counting down has started."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Killed in Iraq

As of yesterday, 583 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations and 2,928 U.S. service members have been wounded. Since May 1, when President Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, 445 U.S. soldiers have died.

Latest Identifications

Marine Lance Cpl. Andrew S. Dang, 20, Foster City, Calif., killed Monday by hostile fire near Ar Ramady; assigned to 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force; Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Army Pfc. Christopher E. Hudson, 21, Carmel, Ind.; killed Sunday by an explosive in Baghdad; assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 12th Armored Cavalry Regiment; Fort Hood, Texas.

Army Pvt. Dustin L. Kreider, 19, Riverton, Kan.; died Sunday during a weapon test-firing incident near Samarra; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division; Schweinfurt, Germany.

Army Spc. Matthew J. Sandri, 24, Shamokin, Pa.; died Saturday in rocket attack in Fallujah; assigned to the 82nd Forward Support Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division; Fort Bragg, N.C.

Army Maj. Mark D. Taylor, 41, Stockton, Calif.; died Saturday in rocket attack in Fallujah; assigned to the 782nd Main Support Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division; Fort Bragg, N.C.

Army 1st Lt. Michael W. Vega, 41, Lathrop, Calif.; died Saturday at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, from injuries in a vehicle accident March 11 in Diwaniyah; assigned to the 223rd Military Intelligence Company, 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion, Army National Guard; Sacramento, Calif.

Army Pfc. Jason C. Ludlam, 22, Arlington, Texas; electrocuted Friday while laying wires in Baqouba; assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division; Vilseck, Germany. Associated Press

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