USA Today
August 3, 2006
Pg. 7

Talabani: Iraqi Forces On Track To Take Over Security

Dozens killed in attacks across country

By Associated Press

BAGHDAD — President Jalal Talabani said Wednesday that his government remains confident it can cope with the security crisis in Iraq, vanquish extremist groups and take over security nationwide by the end of the year.

Talabani called the recent surge in attacks “the last arrows in their quivers.”

Talabani's prediction came on a day when bombs exploded on a Baghdad soccer field, killing 11 young people. At least 42 other people — two of them Americans — died elsewhere in sectarian or political violence.

The two homemade bombs went off on a soccer field in the mostly Shiite district of Amil in west Baghdad, killing players and spectators ranging in age from 15 to 25, police 1st Lt. Maitham Abdul Razzaq said.

Two mortar shells struck another Shiite district, Abu Dshir, killing three people under age 15, police Capt. Firas Queti said. One shell exploded on a soccer field and the other hit a house, wounding a couple and their child, he said.

Two Americans died in combat in Anbar province, the Sunni insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad, the U.S. Command said. One was a Marine assigned to the Army's 1st Armored Division and the other was a soldier with the 9th Naval Construction Regiment, the command said.

No group claimed responsibility for the Baghdad attacks, which appeared to be part of the tit-for-tat attacks by Sunni and Shiite extremists. The attacks threaten Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, which took office May 20.

Even so, Talabani said plans are on track for Iraqis to take over security. Talabani's outlook was far rosier than that of U.S. commanders and other Iraqi officials. His staff quickly sought to explain that he was referring to the beginning of a “process” for Iraqis to assume control, not the final step.

The Iraqis have been given security responsibility in only one of 18 provinces: Muthanna. It is a remote southern province with an overwhelmingly Shiite population and is among the most peaceful in the country.

“What he meant is that the process will be underway by the end of this year,” said Talabani's media adviser, Hiwa Osman. “We are not expecting a complete hand-over by the end of this year.”

The surge in sectarian violence has prompted the U.S. Command to send at least 3,700 U.S. troops from the northern city of Mosul to reclaim the capital's streets from Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias, rogue police, criminals and freelance gunmen.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he did not see Talabani's remarks but hopes Iraqis will take over as conditions permit.

“He's the president of Iraq, and he can make his statements,” Rumsfeld said. “I didn't see the context of it or the translation of it, and I can't comment beyond what our policy is.”

Also Wednesday, a U.S. soldier testified that members of his squadron accused of murdering three Iraqis had received orders to kill insurgents they encountered during a raid near Samarra. Pfc. Bradley Mason said that orders to “kill all of them” were clear before the May 9 raid. He was testifying during a hearing in Tikrit to decide whether soldiers will be court-martialed on murder charges.