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Generals ask if Iraqis can hold U.S.'s gains

The U.S. commander of a new offensive north of Baghdad, reclaiming insurgent territory day by day, said Sunday his Iraqi partners may be too weak to hold onto the gains. The Iraqi military does not even have enough ammunition, said Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek: “They’re not quite up to the job yet.”
/ Source: The Associated Press

The U.S. commander of a new offensive north of Baghdad, reclaiming insurgent territory day by day, said Sunday his Iraqi partners may be too weak to hold onto the gains.

The Iraqi military does not even have enough ammunition, said Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek: “They’re not quite up to the job yet.”

His counterpart south of Baghdad seemed to agree, saying U.S. troops are too few to garrison the districts newly rid of insurgents. “It can’t be coalition (U.S.) forces. We have what we have. There’s got to be more Iraqi security forces,” said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch.

The two commanders spoke after a deadly day for the U.S. military in Iraq. At least 12 soldiers were killed on Saturday from roadside bombings and other causes, leaving at least 31 dead for the week.

'Chemical Ali' to hang
In central Baghdad, meanwhile, the Iraqi High Tribunal on Sunday sentenced Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as “Chemical Ali,” and two others to death for their roles in the bloody suppression of Iraq’s restive Kurdish minority during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, a campaign prosecutors said left 180,000 dead.

Al-Majid, a cousin of executed former president Saddam Hussein and a one-time Baath Party leader in the north, was convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for ordering army and security services to use chemical weapons in the offensive against the independence-minded Kurds of northern Iraq, viewed by Saddam as traitors and Iranian allies.

Ex-defense minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai and Hussein Rashid Mohammed, a former deputy operations director for the Iraqi military, also were sentenced to hang for the anti-Kurdish atrocities. Two others, former intelligence officials under Saddam, were sentenced to life in prison, and the charges against a former northern governor were dismissed.

In the U.S. offensive dubbed Operation Arrowhead Ripper, some 10,000 American troops were in their sixth day of combat to drive Sunni al-Qaida militants from their stronghold in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Between 60 and 100 suspected al-Qaida fighters and one U.S. soldier have been killed so far in the fighting in western Baqouba, said Bednarek, the 25th Infantry Division’s deputy commander for operations. About 60 insurgents were detained, he said.

'Closing the noose'
He estimated between 50 and 100 insurgents were inside a U.S. security cordon in the city. “We’re closing the noose,” Bednarek told The Associated Press. “It’s the hardcore fighters left — guys who will die for their cause.”

He said U.S. forces now control about 60 percent of the city’s west side, but “the challenge now is, how do you hold onto the terrain you’ve cleared? You have to do that shoulder-to-shoulder with Iraqi security forces. And they’re not quite up to the job yet.”

Across Diyala province, where Baqouba is the capital, Iraqi troops are short on uniforms, weapons, ammunition, trucks and radios, he said.

Bednarek predicted it would be weeks before Iraqi police and soldiers could keep al-Qaida out of western Baqouba, and months before they were able to do the same on the city’s east side and outlying villages.

Lynch, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division and of an operation clearing Baghdad’s southern outskirts, was asked at a news conference whether he thought Iraqi troops would be able to secure his gains.

“There’s not enough of them, there’s not enough of them,” Lynch replied. “So I believe the Iraqi government has got to work to create more Iraqi security forces.”

He cited statements by Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the outgoing head of the training command here who told a U.S. congressional panel this month that the Iraqi army, now 159,000 troops, should be expanded by at least 20,000 in order to free U.S. troops from some critical missions.

In violence around Iraq on Monday, a suicide truck bomber struck a police station in Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, at 8:30 a.m., killing at least six civilians and wounding 12 others, a police captain reported, speaking on condition of anonymity.

American troops share the post with the local police, on the main road in central Beiji. There was no immediate word of U.S. casualties.

About 45 minutes later, another suicide car bomb exploded at a joint U.S.-Iraqi army checkpoint in central Siniyah, nine miles west of Beiji, killing two Iraqi soldiers and wounding three others, an Iraqi army officer reported.

Again, there was no immediate report of American casualties, although eyewitnesses said a U.S. Humvee vehicle was damaged in the blast. American aircraft quickly appeared over the Beiji area and attacked suspected insurgent targets, eyewitnesses said.

At least eight killed
A suicide car bomber targeted the governor’s offices in the predominantly Shiite southern city of Hillah, killing at least eight people and wounding 31.

A spokesman for the provincial police department said the eight killed included three policemen and at least four officers were among the 31 wounded. The spokesman spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

A car bomb Saturday evening in Hillah killed at least two people and wounded 18 others, a hospital official reported.

Hillah has been the target of some of the deadliest car bomb attacks by suspected Sunni Muslim extremists in the four years of insurgency and sectarian killings in Iraq.

On Sunday, a roadside bomb exploded at noon in central Samarra, north of Baghdad, killing four Interior Ministry special forces personnel in a passing utility vehicle, police reported. Farther north, Ninevah provincial police said gunmen in a speeding car shot and killed Ahmed Zeinel, a Shiite Kurdish member of the provincial council, as he left his house in Mosul on Sunday morning.

On the political front, two blocs of Sunni lawmakers, holding 55 seats, boycotted Sunday’s session of the 275-seat Iraqi parliament in a continuing controversy over the removal of the Sunni parliament speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani.

The boycott came a day after the parliament decided to cancel at least the first month of a two-month summer vacation supposed to start on July 1, in order to take up legislation, including a new law governing the oil industry, on which the United States has been pressing for approval.