Sat, Nov 15, 2003 - Page 1 News List

No early troop pullback from Iraq, Rumsfeld says

MOUNTING TOLL Even as he seeks more help from allies and the Iraqis themselves, the US defense secretary says coalition troops are not about to leave anytime soon

REUTERS , BAGHDAD

Iraqi boys play on an abandoned T-72 tank yesterday in a former Republican Guard compound in Baghdad, which was shelled over the past two days by the US.

PHOTO: REUTERS

As the US pledged to hand power to Iraqis faster, the Pentagon said yesterday that did not mean pulling out troops before they crushed guerrillas who fight on, seven months after the fall of former president Saddam Hussein.

"There is no decision to pull out early. Indeed quite the contrary," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said while the US occupying forces launched new "Iron Hammer" strikes on suspected resistance positions around Baghdad.

"We will stay there as long as necessary," he told troops in the Pacific.

He denied Washington and its allies were in trouble after a particularly bloody few weeks in Iraq and insisted they were winning, despite an increasing number of guerrilla attacks.

Arriving in Japan, which is suffering cold feet about sending troops to Iraq after a bomb killed 18 Italians on Wednesday, Rumsfeld met Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. He is also due in South Korea, which is reviewing its offer of troops.

Rumsfeld was expected to press Washington's case to its allies for help in stabilizing Iraq to relieve the military and financial burden on the US as President George W. Bush seeks re-election a year from now.

Opinion polls show declining support among American voters for the occupation and growing disillusionment about the way the March invasion has turned out. Bush said on Thursday he wanted to "encourage the Iraqis to assume more responsibility."

US officials have not spelled out how this will be done, saying Iraq administrator Paul Bremer would discuss details with the Iraqi Governing Council on his return to Baghdad after this week's urgent consultations in Washington.

Postwar attacks that have killed 156 US soldiers, along with suicide bombings like Wednesday's assault on an Italian military base, have prompted what US General John Abizaid calls a "sense of urgency" about military efforts in Iraq.

The US military disclosed that Abizaid, leading those efforts, was planning to move back to the Gulf state of Qatar from Central Command headquarters in Florida.

In a fresh guerrilla attack, a roadside blast wounded two American soldiers in southern Baghdad yesterday morning.

Heavy gunfire and explosions had echoed across Baghdad during the night as US forces pursued Operation Iron Hammer against suspected guerrilla targets for a second day.

US forces destroyed a former Republican Guard building they said resistance fighters used to launch attacks and struck more suspected mortar and rocket-launch sites.

A missile fired from a AC-130 Spectre gunship flattened part of the building, leaving a tangle of metal and debris.

"Our unit has been taking fire from this building for several days so that's why we attacked," a US officer on the scene said.

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