Iraqi security forces will not be ready to protect the country against insurgents by the June 30 handover of power, the top US administrator said – an assessment aimed at defending the continued heavy presence of US troops even after an Iraqi government takes over.
The unusually blunt comments from Paul Bremer came amid a weekend of new fighting that pushed the death toll for US troops in April to 99, already the record for a single month in Iraq and approaching the number killed during the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein last year.
The military had always planned to remain after June 30, when the US is to hand over sovereignty to Iraq. In recent months coalition officials acknowledged the transfer of security will be significantly slower than hoped because Iraqi forces were not prepared.
Bremer said the fighting across the country this month exposed the depth of the problems inside the security forces.
“Events of the past two weeks show that Iraq still faces security threats and needs outside help to deal with them. Early this month, the foes of democracy overran Iraqi police stations and seized public buildings in several parts of the country,” he said. “Iraqi forces were unable to stop them.”
“It is clear that Iraqi forces will not be able, on their own, to deal with these threats by June 30 when an Iraqi government assumes sovereignty,” Bremer said in a statement issued by the US coalition.
With US-led forces fighting on two fronts and insurgent violence flaring elsewhere, at least 99 US troops have been killed in combat since April 1. In the latest violence, five Marines and five soldiers were killed on Saturday.
A total of 115 US service members were killed in combat from the start of the US-led invasion in March 2003 until May 1, when President Bush declared major combat over.
Until now, the single-month record for US troops killed was 82, in November.
Over the weekend, at least 40 Iraqis were killed, bringing the Iraqi death toll in April to more than 1,050.
A British soldier was wounded in fighting in the southern city of Amarah, a spokesman said. A military vehicle was seen burning while Iraqis nearby chanted slogans in favour of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Fighting continued yesterday in three neighbourhoods of Husaybah, which was sealed off by US forces. It is located at the far end of Iraq’s western Anbar province.
Three soldiers were killed on Saturday when their 1st Armoured Division convoy was ambushed near the southern city of Diwaniyah. Another died when a roadside bomb exploded near a convoy in Baghdad, and a soldier assigned to the marines was killed in action in western Iraq, separate from the fighting by the Syrian border.
A soldier also died in a tank rollover, and another was electrocuted in an accident in the northern city of Samarra.
Rockets aimed at a military camp in western Baghdad hit a nearby civilian area, killing two Iraqi civilians. Two US civilian contractors and a soldier also were wounded.
US officials and representatives of the besieged city of Fallujah reported progress in negotiations on Friday and Saturday to ease violence and the 16-day Marine siege. Talks were to resume today.
Spain’s prime minister yesterday ordered the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq as soon as possible, fulfilling a campaign promise made after terrorist bombings that al-Qaida militants said were reprisal for Spain’s support of the war.
Spanish premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said the troops will now quit the Polish-controlled central zone in Iraq “in the shortest time possible” claiming he could not see the UN adopting a resolution satisfying Spain’s terms.