Sat, Feb 12, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Rumsfeld makes surprise visit to Mosul, Baghdad

AFP , MOSUL

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday made a surprise visit to Iraq, as US and Iraqi troops retook control of a police station south of Baghdad after a fierce battle that left dozens dead.

In further violence, at least seven people were killed at a bakery in the capital while five Iraqi soldiers died in attacks elsewhere.

Rumsfeld, the highest-ranking US official to visit Iraq since the landmark Jan. 30 elections, told US troops they could "go home with honor" once Iraqi forces were able to defeat insurgents on their own.

His first stop was the strife-torn northern city of Mosul and he then headed on to Baghdad for talks with officials.

He told several hundred soldiers, including some Iraqi forces gathered at Mosul's airport, that it would "take some time" to train security forces but the Iraqis must prepare themselves.

"Because it is the Iraqis who are going to have to, over time, defeat the insurgents. It is their country. It is their responsibility," Rumsfeld said.

"Once they have confidence and capacity and capability, our forces, coalition forces, will be able to go home. And go home with the honor you will have earned," he said.

The situation was tense in the Iraqi town of Salman Pak after a battle which saw rebels firing rockets, mortars and machine guns and besiege one police station in the town about 20km south of Baghdad.

American helicopters were sent to the scene Thursday and opened fired to dislodge the insurgents.

The town was sealed off yesterday by Iraqi and US troops but police said it was calm.

"According to our latest toll there were 10 police killed and 75 wounded," a Salman Pak police official told reporters.

He added that 46 police vehicles were destroyed and that the fighting lasted several hours.

Iraqi National Security Adviser Qassem Daoud said that 20 insurgents had been killed and 21 arrested.

"We have never seen such fighting," said the official in Salman Pak.

"Now the interior ministry quick reaction forces and American soldiers are in control."

The bodies of more than 20 truck drivers and four Iraqi police and soldiers were found in the same region.

Their convoy had been attacked at least two days earlier, police said, but no one had dared touch them.

In a further sign of insecurity, police said that at least seven people had died in an early morning attack on a bakery in eastern Baghdad.

"The attack on the `Happiness Bakery' opposite the Al-Rashad police station killed seven and we think this is a criminal or tribal dispute," police said.

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