| An Iraqi mother with her malnourished baby in a hospital in Baghdad. (AFP)
Baghdad, Sept. 6 (Reuters): US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today it was up to Iraqis and not the American-led occupiers to control violence unleashed since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Earlier, Rumsfeld lauded what he said was the “wonderful start” to rebuilding Iraq when he addressed US and Polish soldiers among the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon, even as guerrillas attacked his troops and protesters marched for jobs.
“This country belongs to the Iraqi people. And in the last analysis, it is the Iraqi people who will provide the security in this country,” Rumsfeld told a news conference in Baghdad.
Rumsfeld’s comments, at the end of a three-day tour of Iraq, were intended to stem mounting criticism of US forces for failing to control lawlessness and prevent a string of car bombs which have killed more than 120 people in the last month. He challenged Iraqis to provide more information on militants in their midst, described by Washington as Saddam loyalists aided by foreign Islamic extremists.
“Instead of pointing fingers at the security forces of the coalition because there are acts of violence taking place against Iraqi people in this country, it’s important for the Iraqi people to step up and take responsibility.”
His comments echoed a televised appeal he made to Iraqis aired today after he taped it the previous day. Underlining the problems plaguing Iraq, guerrillas staged fresh attacks on US patrols today while hundreds of protesters marched in the south to demand jobs.
In the worst of the attacks, US soldiers killed two Iraqis who opened fire at an observation post in Saddam’s home town of Tikrit, north of Baghdad, local commanders said. An Iraqi boy also died in crossfire between US soldiers and attackers overnight in central Iraq.
With 67 US soldiers killed since major combat was declared over on May 1 and the financial cost of occupying Iraq spiralling, Washington wants other nations to send troops to back its deployment of around 130,000 soldiers.
Britain has an 11,000-strong force and sent 120 more soldiers to Iraq today at the start of what could be a reinforcement of several thousand. Other nations have so far sent 9,000 soldiers. But the US wants 15,000 more and is pushing for a new UN resolution to mandate a larger multinational force.
Washington’s closest ally, Britain, expressed optimism today that the UN would reach a deal.