Baghdad, Nov. 14 (Reuters): Iraqis can expect a faster transfer of power, but US troops will stay until they have defeated insurgents fighting on, seven months after Saddam Hussein’s fall, the US secretary of defence said today.
“There is no decision to pull out early. Indeed quite the contrary,” Donald Rumsfeld said, while US forces launched new “Iron Hammer” strikes on suspected guerrilla targets 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. Arriving in Japan, which has 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 stabilising 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 US voters for the occupation and growing disillusionment about the outcome of the March invasion. Rumsfeld said the initial plan had been for a transfer of sovereignty after a new Iraqi constitution was ratified and elections held but the administration was considering ways to transfer some responsibility sooner. Bush said yesterday 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, now back in Baghdad after this week’s urgent consultations in Washington, will discuss details with the Iraqi governing council. “One of the top and immediate priorities will be meeting the governing council,” said Bremer’s spokesman Dan Senor. The council is scheduled to meet on Saturday, but a council source said it was not clear if Bremer would attend.
In a fresh guerrilla attack, a roadside blast wounded three American soldiers in southern Baghdad this morning.
Heavy gunfire and explosions echoed across Baghdad during the night as US forces pursued Operation Iron Hammer against suspected guerrilla positions for a second day.
US forces destroyed a former Republican Guard building they said their foes had used to launch attacks, and struck more suspected mortar and rocket-launch sites.