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America bleeds less than Iraq, says general

Baghdad, Nov. 25 (Reuters): A top US general said today that intensified US military strikes had halved the number of attacks on his forces in Iraq in the past two weeks, but assaults on Iraqis had surged.

Loud blasts echoed across Baghdad after dark today and loudspeakers at the headquarters of the US-led administration ordered personnel to take cover as an attack was under way. “Attack. Take cover. This is not a test,” the loudspeaker announcements said, as sirens wailed at the coalition compound in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palace complexes in central Baghdad.

General John Abizaid, head of US Central Command, was speaking a day after Iraq’s interim authority submitted a timetable for self-rule and asked the UN Security Council for a new resolution that would end the US-led occupation in June.

Abizaid said US forces had stepped up operations to counter a rise in insurgent activity over the past 60 days.

“These offensive actions in the past two weeks have actually driven down attacks on coalition forces...I would say the attacks are down by about half,” he told a news conference.

“But unfortunately we have found that attacks against Iraqis have increased,” he added.

US administrator Paul Bremer predicted more violence. “We have to anticipate that there will continue to be a level of terrorism in this country in the months ahead,” he said.

Security on the ground was intense as troops remained on alert for attacks marking the end of Ramazan after grisly weekend killings of US soldiers and two suicide bombings on police stations that killed 17 Iraqis.

Yesterday, a grenade attack on a hotel used by US contractors in the northern city of Kirkuk wounded three people, witnesses said.

Bremer and the US-appointed Iraqi governing council unveiled a plan 10 days ago to restore Iraqi sovereignty in June, reversing earlier US insistence that a new constitution and elections should precede any transfer of power.

In a letter to the Security Council yesterday, Jalal Talabani, president of the Iraqi council, said a provisional legislative body would be chosen by May 31. This would elect a provisional government by the end of June.

His letter did not mention continued deployment of US and other foreign troops, but it is assumed the new provisional government will request that they stay. Guerrillas fighting the occupation have killed 185 US troops since Washington declared major combat over on May 1, but Abizaid said there were enough troops in Iraq to combat them. “I talk to the commanders in the field all the time about whether they are comfortable with the size of the force, and they are,” he said.

The US has about 130,000 troops in Iraq, but some Congressmen say more are needed.

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