Skip to comments.Operation Phantom Fury--Day 31-Mop Up Continues; Operation Plymouth Rock
Posted on 12/08/2004 6:39:42 AM PST by TexKat
A US soldier shakes hands with an Iraqi boy in Baghdad's Kadesia district Wednesday Dec 8, 2004. US troops searched houses for weapons in the neighborhood Wednesday. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
In this undated photograph released Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2004 by the US Army, Sgt. Angela Magnuson of Fingal, N.D., Sgt. Kristen Pagel of Fargo, N.D., and Sgt. Jessica Fisher of Jamestown, N.D., pose like characters from the 1970's television program "Charlies Angels" between missions at Forward Operations Base Warhorse, near Baqubah, Iraq. The first infantry division's Charlie company soldiers have nicknamed the three medics "Charlie's Angels". (AP Photo/US Army, Sgt. 1st Class Mark Geiss)
By Majid Hameed RAMADI, Iraq (Reuters) - Fighting raged between rebels controlling the western Iraq town of Ramadi and U.S. Marines Wednesday after two Iraqis were killed in clashes following a suicide car bomb attack, witnesses said.
As insurgents battled Marines in Ramadi, the death toll from clashes in the northern city of Samarra climbed to six, with four civilians and two police killed, a hospital official said.
Warplanes were heard over Ramadi, where witnesses said a U.S. armored vehicle was in flames and smoke rose from an American base that was hit by a mortar.
Fighting spread from the center of the city to the industrial zone in the east after a suicide bomber attacked a U.S. military checkpoint and clashes killed two Iraqi civilians.
There were no immediate reports of U.S. casualties.
Ramadi, 110 km (65 miles) west of Baghdad and the capital of the restive Anbar province, has been occupied by insurgents for the past six months or more. Like Falluja previously, it has become a stronghold of anti-American resistance.
A U.S.-led invasion crushed Muslim militants and insurgents in Falluja in November in a bid to break the back of the insurgency ahead of nationwide elections scheduled for Jan. 30.
The U.S. military has said it will try to drive insurgents out of all strongholds by the end of the year, meaning Ramadi could be subjected to an offensive similar to that in Falluja.
Despite the threat of a showdown with U.S. forces, insurgents remain defiant and have mounted attacks across Iraq.
A suicide car bomber attacked a U.S. convoy in the northern city of Samarra Wednesday, a local police official said.
In a separate incident, an Iraqi policeman was killed when insurgents opened fire on U.S. soldiers in the town that the Iraqi interim government said it had seized from guerrillas after a major offensive in early October.
Witnesses said American soldiers using loudspeakers told residents to stay home after clashes with guerrillas broke out.
Ramadi, not far from Falluja, is as a major security problem for U.S. forces, who have a small base in the city.
Insurgents in black masks and red and white checkered scarves took up positions along Ramadi's streets Wednesday, aiming their rocket-propelled grenades toward U.S. targets.
An official at Ramadi hospital said the two dead Iraqis were civilians. There was no immediate comment from the U.S. military on the fighting there.
At dawn Wednesday, insurgents carried out a car bomb attack on a U.S. patrol in southern Baghdad. The U.S. military said two soldiers were slightly wounded but had returned to duty. Witnesses said several Iraqis were wounded.
An Iraqi and his son stand outside their shop in Baghdad's Kadesia district as a US soldier walks past Wednesday Dec 8, 2004. US troops searched houses for weapons in the neighborhood. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
By SLOBODAN LEKIC, Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Insurgents detonated a roadside bomb as a U.S. convoy passed in Baghdad and gunmen tried to storm the main police station in Samarra on Wednesday as Britain's defense minister arrived in southern Iraq to meet with soldiers and officials.
The bomb wounded two U.S. soldiers, who later returned to duty, said U.S. military spokesman Maj. Jay Antonelli. Another six civilians were wounded, Iraqi hospital officials said.
In Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, police returned fire before the attackers fled, Maj. Sadoun Ahmed said. One policeman and a child were caught in the crossfire and died in the clash. Samarra has been the scene of regular clashes between U.S. forces and militants.
Police found the beheaded corpse of an Iraqi National Guardsman in the Hillah River, some 60 miles south of Baghdad, hospital official Hussein Madlol said Wednesday. It wasn't clear when he was killed.
Iraqi security forces are regularly targeted by insurgents, who regard them as collaborators with U.S.-led coalition forces.
Hospital officials also said three Iraqis were killed and one wounded in clashes around the U.S. base in Ramadi, 70 miles west of the capital.
An American soldier was slain Tuesday by small-arms fire while on patrol in Baghdad. The Pentagon's Web site on Wednesday listed the number of combat deaths as 999; it was not clear if the soldier was included.
The military also announced a Marine died in a vehicle accident in western Baghdad. The two deaths brought the number of U.S. military who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003 to 1,278, according to an Associated Press tally.
Meanwhile, British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon was to meet with some of Britain's 9,000 soldiers based around Basra who have recently been engaged in combat operations in central Iraq in support of a U.S.-led effort to clear insurgents from a wide swath of territory south of Baghdad, spokesman Maj. David Gibb said.
Hoon also planned to discuss preparations for Iraq's Jan. 30 elections with the city's governor, Hassan al-Rashid, during his one-day visit, he said.
"His visit is sending a major political message to the Iraqi people and the regional states that a senior British politician is supporting not just the military operations in the country but also the political process and the rebuilding of Iraq as it moves toward the establishment of a new government after the Jan. 30 elections," Gibb said.
Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, lies close to Iraq's long and porous border with Iran. Hoon's visit comes at a time when top officials of the interim government have complained that the country's neighbors are not doing enough to prevent militants from infiltrating into Iraq.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, meanwhile, got some negative feedback from disgruntled soldiers after delivering a pep talk at a base in Kuwait.
In his prepared remarks, Rumsfeld urged the troops mostly National Guard and Reserve soldiers to discount critics of the war in Iraq and to help "win the test of wills" with the insurgents.
But Army Spc. Thomas Wilson of the 278th Regimental Combat Team asked Rumsfeld in a question-and-answer session why vehicle armor is still in short supply, nearly three years after the war in Iraq began.
Rumsfeld replied that, "You go to war with the Army you have," not the one you might want, and that any rate the Army was pushing manufacturers of vehicle armor to produce it as fast as humanly possible."
Iraq's U.S.-installed authorities have repeatedly called on their neighbors particularly Syria and Iran to guard their borders more closely.
Jordan's King Abdullah II and Iraq's interim president, both Sunni Muslims, singled out Iran, accusing the Islamic republic of trying to influence the Jan. 30 elections.
Abdullah told The Washington Post in an interview published Wednesday that more than 1 million Iranians have crossed the border into Iraq, many to vote, and he said they were being encouraged by the Iranian government.
The king also reportedly accused the Iranians of paying salaries and providing welfare to unemployed Iraqis to promote pro-Iranian public sentiment.
"It is in Iran's vested interest to have an Islamic republic of Iraq ... and therefore the involvement you're getting by the Iranians is to achieve a government that is very pro-Iran," Abdullah told the newspaper.
Iraqi officials have previously suggested that Iran, which is overwhelmingly Shiite Muslim, is backing its Shiite brethren, who form a majority in Iraq.
"Unfortunately, time is proving, and the situation is proving, beyond any doubt that Iran has very obvious interference in our business," Iraqi interim President Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni, said in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters.
Iran has said it has no interest in fomenting instability in Iraq and it tries to block any infiltration into Iraq by insurgents while pleading that its porous borders are hard to police.
A series of attacks in recent days have killed more than 80 Iraqis, mostly members of the country's fledgling security forces. The attacks are of particular concern because Iraqi and American officials have insisted they will go ahead with elections despite the violence and a call for postponement by several leading Sunni Muslim groups.
Some foreign leaders have expressed doubts.
During a visit by Iraq's interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he "cannot imagine" how Iraq's elections can go forward next month amid the violence.
British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon talks to soldiers during breakfast while visiting British troops in southern Iraqi city of Basra Wednesday Dec. 8 2004. (AP Photo/Nabil Al-Jurani)
from yesterday's Dose of Presdient Bush giving Pearl Harbor commemorative Day speach at Camp Pembleton. MORE PIX HERE
People walk past a poster of Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2004. al-Sistani has issued a fatwa, or religious rulling, in mid-October to encourage people to vote in Iraq's upcoming elections. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
By SAMEER N. YACOUB, Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD - Iraq's Interior Ministry on Wednesday threw its weight behind a reported suggestion by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to hold next month's national elections over several days, rather than just one.
But Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission, which has final say over the scheduled Jan. 30 vote, said it was still trying to confirm Allawi's published comments and insisted no official change had been made in the way voting will be held.
Allawi made the proposal in comments published Tuesday in two European newspapers, Belgium's Le Soir and Switzerland's Le Temps. He said Iraq's upcoming vote could be held over two or three weeks across the country to allow security forces to protect polling stations effectively.
"If people have more than one day to vote, then there will be shorter lines and thus there will be less danger and less victims if something bad happens, although we have taken the necessary measures to secure the voting process," Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Khazim said.
"It is an excellent idea and it will make it easier for the Interior Ministry regarding securing the elections," he said.
The handling of the vote has become a key issue in Iraq recently, with insurgents threatening to attack polling stations and the country's Sunni Muslim minority demanding a postponement. Some insurgent strongholds have been too dangerous for the registration process to begin.
President Bush and Iraqi leaders have said the vote will go forward on Jan. 30, as required by the country's interim constitution. The constitution does not mention the possibility of a staggered vote.
"Everyone Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Kurds, Turkomen should be able to take part in the vote," the Le Soir newspaper quoted Allawi as saying. "That is why I think we can see elections spread over 15 days, or 20, with polls spread over different dates according to the provinces. It would allow for the imposition of adequate security."
Allawi made the comments during a trip to Jordan, Germany and Russia. In Moscow on Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin said during a meeting with Allawi that he couldn't see how the vote could take place Jan. 30 with Iraq under foreign occupation.
Farid Ayar, the spokesman of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, said his office hadn't been told of Allawi's idea, adding that it wouldn't be Allawi's decision anyhow.
"We are the ones who set the voting mechanism. We have no information about this suggestion," Ayar said. "We have good relations with Dr. Allawi and we think if he had such an idea he would have proposed it to us before the media."
SAMARRA, Iraq - Gunmen attacked the police headquarters in Samarra on Wednesday, killing an Iraqi policemen and a child who was caught in the cross fire, a police official said.
Maj. Sadoun Ahmed said militants staged a morning attack on the police station in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad.
Police returned fire before the attackers fled, leaving one policeman and a child dead, Ahmed said.
Insurgents routinely attack Iraqi security forces for aiding the U.S.-led military occupation. Samarra has been the scene of regular clashes between coalition forces and militants.
Iraqi insurgents are being directed to a greater degree than previously suspected by loyalists of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein living in Syria, according to a Washington Post report.
A handful of senior Iraqi Baathists are collecting money from private sources in Saudi Arabia and Europe for the Iraqi insurgents and are managing some of their operations from Syria, the newspaper quoted intelligence sources as saying.
The intelligence officials said their suspicions were based on information gathered during recent fighting in the Sunni Triangle.
They say a US military summary of operations in the Fallujah said a global positioning receiver found in a bomb factory there "contained waypoints originating in western Syria".
In separate interviews with the Washington Post, Jordan's King Abdullah II and Iraqi President Ghazi Yawar also raised concerns about Syria's role in Iraq.
"There are people in Syria who are bad guys, who are fugitives of the law and who are Saddam remnants who are trying to bring the vicious dictatorship of Saddam back," Sheikh Yawar said.
King Abdullah noted that the governments of both the United States and Iraq believe that "foreign fighters are coming across the Syrian border that have been trained in Syria".
The Syrian ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, rejected the accusations as unfounded.
"There is a sinister campaign to create an atmosphere of hostility against Syria," he told the Post.
The envoy said his Government "categorically" denied that Iraqi Baathists were taking refuge in Syria.
"We don't allow this to happen," he said. "Iraqi officials were never welcome."
One defence official told the paper that the new intelligence also suggested US operations in Iraq, especially in the Green Zone in central Baghdad, have been heavily infiltrated by Iraqi insurgents.
The official said cell phone calls increased after major convoys left the Green Zone.
December 08 2004 at 07:50AM By Adam Entous
Camp Pendleton, California - President George Bush sought on Tuesday to boost the morale of US troops facing extended deployments in Iraq, but acknowledged mixed results so far in training Iraqi forces to replace them.
As the US combat death toll in Iraq reached 1 000 since last year's invasion with a record monthly toll in November of 136, Bush said he expected a tough road ahead.
While a recent offensive in Fallujah "dealt the enemy a severe blow," Bush said the insurgents who used the city as their stronghold would "keep on fighting" and offered a more cautious assessment of the readiness of Iraqi troops than he had in the past.
He touted a new Nato training programme
Classified CIA assessments, disclosed on Tuesday, said the situation was deteriorating and unlikely to improve any time soon.
"Some Iraqi units have performed better than others," Bush told thousands of camouflage-clad Marines flanked by giant American flags and heavily armed Humvees. "Some Iraqis have been intimidated enough by the insurgents to leave the service to their country."
But Bush said "a great many are standing firm," and the United States would continue training Iraqi security forces "so the Iraqi people can eventually take responsibility for their own security."
He touted a new Nato training programme and said efforts were underway to "develop a core of well-trained senior and mid-level Iraqi officers" to lead the new forces.
Bush did not repeat his assertions from September about nearly 100 000 "fully trained and equipped" Iraqi soldiers, police officers and other security personnel being on the job.
Citing the temporary increase in troop strength
Bush said his goal was to "help the Iraqi government build a force that no longer needs coalition support so they can defend their own nation. And then American soldiers and Marines can come home."
But Bush offered no timetables one day after Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he hoped US troops would be pulled out of Iraq in the next four years.
The White House said Bush's California visit was part of an effort to boost US troop morale. He flew more than nine hours round-trip from Washington to give a 30-minute speech at Camp Pendleton, which has had one of the highest casualty rates in Iraq of any US military base.
After his speech, Bush sat down to a lunch of pasta, rice and beef in the mess hall, and met with more than 50 families of fallen soldiers.
The Pentagon announced last week it would increase the number of American troops in Iraq to 150 000, from 138 000, to try to improve security for elections at the end of January.
The move will extend the promised year-long Iraq tours of 8 100 Army soldiers to 14 months and the seven-month tours of 2 300 Marines to nine months.
In a sign of growing tension, eight US soldiers serving in Iraq and Kuwait filed a lawsuit this week over a military policy that forces them to serve beyond their enlistment contracts.
Citing the temporary increase in troop strength, Bush said he had "a strategy in place to aid the rise of a stable democracy in Iraq, to help the Iraqi government provide security during the election period."
Bush has vowed to press ahead with January 30 elections in Iraq despite the surge in violence.
"As election day approaches, we can expect further violence from the terrorists," Bush said, adding: "Free elections will proceed as planned."
He said the elections would undercut the insurgency because "when Iraqis choose new leaders in free elections, it will destroy the myth that the terrorists are fighting a foreign occupation and make clear that what the terrorists are really fighting is the will of the Iraqi people."
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan)
There are probably multiple answers to your question olde north church. None of which I am qualified to give, but from where I am comfortably sitting I would say (1) manpower, (2) collatoral damage, (3) the pc factor, (4) the camouflaged terrorist among the Iraqi civilians.
There is still more to be fought and more to be achieved in this long hard slog.
"Question: Why weren't there coordinated offensives on all terrorist held cities simultaneously with Fallujah? It would have projected a greater strength around Iraq and the Middle East, in the long run increasing our margin of victory."
My guess would be, not enough trained in combat for a coordnated multi city assult plus the thousands of refugees all over the country. (imho)
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun is lifted by an unidentified South Korean Army soldier upon his arrival at their base in Irbil, northern Iraq, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2004. Roh made a surprise visit Wednesday to northern Iraq where 3,600 South Korean troops are helping rebuild the violence-wracked country. (AP Photo/Yonhap, Kim Dong-jin)
SEOUL (AFP) - South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun made a surprise visit to his troops in northern Iraq on his way home from a European tour, a top presidential aide said.
Lee Byung-Wan, senior presidential secretary for public relations, said the visit had been kept secret for security reasons.
"President Roh Moo-Hyun has just concluded a visit to the Zaitun (South Korean military) unit in Arbil, Iraq, on his way back home from Paris," Lee told reporters.
He said the visit was to "encourage" the troops.
South Korean media pool reports from Iraq said Roh, wearing an army jacket, had meals and chats with troops during his 120-minute stay.
"Thank you all so much. It may be a short meeting, but it is such a happy time," he was quoted as telling the soldiers at a mess hall.
"I'm so proud of you."
Yonhap news agency photos showed a smiling Roh chatting with or waving to soldiers, who applauded him.
Roh took a special flight from France, the final leg of his three-nation European tour, to Kuwait before reaching the Kurdish-controlled town of Arbil on a military plane, according to officials.
In February parliament approved the dispatch of up to 3,600 troops for relief and rehabilitation in Iraq until the end of this year.
But the dispatch was delayed for months against a background of growing anti-war protests and it was only in late September that South Korea completed the deployment of 2,800 troops in Arbil.
The mission was reportedly reinforced by another 800 troops in November.
The government has asked parliament to extend the mission by another year until December 31, 2005 and it is almost certain to agree.
Seoul sent troops to Iraq at the request of the United States. More than 30,000 American troops are stationed in South Korea as a defence against North Korea.
The South Korean contingent is the third largest among the US-led allied forces stationed in Iraq.
The Seoul government has restricted media access to the soldiers, citing security reasons following the murder of a South Korean translator by Islamic militants in Iraq in June.
South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun (C) is surrounded during a visit to the Korean troops stationed in Iraq in Arbil. Roh paid a morale-boosting visit to South Korean troops based in Iraq.(AFP/Park Kyung-Mo)
US marines from the 2nd Batallion, 24th Marines expeditionary unit have a chat next to a topples leader Saddam Hussein's poster with a Santa hat at their forward operating base St. Michael in the central Iraqi city of Mahmudiya.(AFP/Odd Andersen)
United Press International The Committee for Defending ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein said Wednesday a scheduled meeting between an Iraqi lawyer and Saddam was canceled.
"Lawyer Khalil Dailami was supposed to meet Saddam Wednesday but the meeting was postponed and no new date was fixed," spokesman Ziad Khasawneh said.
The Amman-based committee said earlier Saddam gave a group of Iraqi lawyers, including Dailami, a power of attorney to defend him through a special Iraqi court set up to try the former dictator.
Since the formation of the special court in June, Iraqi authorities have been rejecting the committee's request to meet Saddam, who is facing charges of genocide, mass killings, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Khasawneh played down the possibility of starting Saddam's trial after legislative elections are held in Iraq as tentatively scheduled by the end of January.
"We really doubt the trial will take place after the elections because this matter is in the hands of the Americans and not in the hands of the interim Iraqi government," he said.
BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraq's interim president accused Iran of meddling in the Iraqi election process, adding to mounting concerns about the viability of landmark vote scheduled for January 30.
Ghazi al-Yawar said Iran was coaching candidates sympathetic to Tehran and pouring "huge amounts of money" into the Iraqi election campaign in the hope of producing a loyal Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.
The comments by the president highlighted a new cause of concern one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin bluntly remarked he could not imagine how elections could go ahead in Iraq under the "total occupation" of foreign troops.
But US President George W. Bush once again scotched any notion that the elections could be delayed, despite issuing a warning that violence was set to escalate ahead of the vote.
"The terrorists will do all they can to delay and disrupt free elections in Iraq, and they will fail," he said at a California military base. "Free elections will proceed as planned."
After a brief lull following the US-led assault to defeat insurgents in the city of Fallujah, violence has continued with the number of US military personnel killed in action since the invasion now about 1,000.
A major worry ahead of the vote is that the more unstable Sunni Muslim areas in the west of the country will not be ready to go to the polls, creating an imbalance with the relatively stable strongholds of the majority Shiites.
The comments by Yawar, himself a Sunni, made in an interview to the Washington Post and echoed by Jordan's King Abdullah II, further underlined concerns that Iran's alleged role in the vote could widen the Sunni-Shiite split.
Iran's Shiite theocratic regime has consistently denied charges of interfering in Iraq, where 60 percent of the population are Shiites.
"Unfortunately, time is proving, and the situation is proving, beyond any doubt that Iran has very obvious interference in our business -- a lot of money, a lot of intelligence activities and almost interfering daily ... especially in the southeast side of Iraq," said Yawar, who backs holding the elections on time.
The Jordanian monarch was even more explicit about Iran's aims.
"It is in Iran's vested interest to have an Islamic republic of Iraq ... and therefore the involvement you're getting by the Iranians is to achieve a government that is very pro-Iran," he told the same daily.
Two days before registration for the election closes, four Iraqi Sunni political movements have registered for the vote, although close to 70 Sunni organisations have threatened a boycott.
That these four have registered indicates that the Sunni political elite -- who have been in power since Iraq's creation -- have resigned themselves to taking part despite calls for a delay and fears of losing out to the Shiites.
Even the party headed by elder statesmen Adnan Pachachi, the leading light behind a Sunni campaign to postpone the January 30 polls for six months, has thrown its hat into the ring.
Meanwhile, British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon was visiting British forces in the southern city of Basra, just days after a battle group returned from a controversial deployment near Baghdad.
Hoon was meeting members of the Scottish Black Watch regiment whose 850-member battle group returned to base Saturday after a controversial month-long deployment which left five of their members dead.
Britain has about 8,500 troops in relatively calm southern Iraq, around Basra, compared to 138,000 US troops in the centre and north. The ministry of defence indicated that Hoon's visit would last several days.
Another high-profile visitor to Iraq Wednesday was South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun who met some of Seoul's contingent in the Kurdish northern town of Arbil for two hours before heading home.
"Thank you all so much. It may be a short meeting, but it is such a happy time," he was quoted as telling applauding soldiers at a mess hall.
Violence continued to simmer on the ground with at least one policeman killed in an attack by armed men against a police station in Samarra, north of Baghdad, and three people wounded in a bomb blast in the Iraqi capital.
Assailants in the northern city of Mosul on Tuesday targeted the country's minority Christians by setting off explosions in two churches -- one of them Chaldean, the other Armenian. There were no casualties.
Pope John Paul II condemned the bombings before pilgrims in Rome's St Peter's Square and prayed "that the dear Iraqi people can finally know a period of reconciliation and peace".
Against the background of violence and political rows over its future, one of Iraq's post-war success stories was again in the spotlight when Australia said it would host a football international against the national team on March 26.
Iraq's team inspired the country when it reached the semi-finals of the Athens Olympics and also managed to get to the quarter finals of the Asian Cup.
People inspect damage done to the Chaldean Christian church in Mosul, Iraq, Wednesday Dec. 8, 2004. Militants bombed two churches in Mosul on Tuesday, injuring three people in a coordinated attack. (AP Photo)
A Chaldean nun walks through debris of the Chaldean church in Mosul, Iraq, Wednesday Dec. 8, 2004. Militants bombed two churches in Mosul on Tuesday, injuring three people in a coordinated attack. (AP Photo)
Chaldean Bishop Paul Faraj Rahho, far left, stands in the debris of the Chaldean church in Mosul, Iraq, Wednesday Dec. 8, 2004. Militants bombed two churches in Mosul on Tuesday, injuring three people in a coordinated attack. (AP Photo)
People stand around a crater caused by an explosive device as a US armored personel carrier drives by on Baghdad's outskirts Wednesday Dec. 8, 2004. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
People stand by two trucks damaged after a roadside bomb exploded on the Baghdad's outskirts Wednesday Dec. 8, 2004, Iraq. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld addresses US military personnel at Camp Buehring in Kuwait before their scheduled departure for Iraqi combat-zones.(AFP/Pool/Larry Downing)
CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait (AFP) - American troops waiting in the Kuwaiti desert to go into Iraq challenged US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about their safety and their future in the country.
Rumsfeld went to Camp Buehring, 20 kilometers (13 miles) from the Iraq border, to face one of the toughest question-and-answer sessions with troops since the start of the Iraq campaign in March 2003.
About 1,800 of the 10,000 troops at Camp Buehring gathered to hear the US defence chief say that Iraqis will have to take over their own security to allow foreign troops to leave after the January 30 election.
But one soldier was loudly cheered as he told Rumsfeld soldiers were "digging through landfills" to find scrap metal to bolster the hundreds of US trucks and other military vehicles that pour across the frontier into Iraq each day.
"Our soldiers have been fighting in Iraq for coming up to three years, a lot of us are getting ready to move north pretty soon," said the soldier.
"Our vehicles are not armoured. We are digging up pieces of rusting scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass that has already been shot up, dropped, busted, picking the best for our vehicles to take into combat.
"We do not have proper armour on our vehicles to carry with us north."
Rumsfeld was questioned by other troops about what would happen to US troops after the January 30 election in Iraq, about missing pay and other worries over conditions.
The camp is a major staging post for US troops heading into or out of Iraq. But it has taken on greater importance as force levels are increased ahead of the election and training has been stepped up because of the mounting insurgency.
Rumsfeld was given a rousing welcome as he entered the hangar where the so-called "town hall" meeting started.
But the challenge over armour for vehicles surprised everyone present.
Rumsfeld replied that he had discussed security for US convoys on the way to the camp and that every available armoured vehicle from around the globe was being sent to Iraq.
"It is essentially a matter of physics, it is not a matter of money, it is not a matter on the part of the army of desire. It is a matter of production and capability of doing it."
Rumsfeld added: "As you know you go to war with the army you have not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time."
He said production of armoured metal has been stepped up since the Iraq conflict started.
Rumsfeld said that after a recent security alert in Washington he had looked out of his Pentagon window to see about six Humvee armoured cars outside. "They are not there any more. They are en route out here I can assure you."
No mention was made of the fact that about 1,000 troops have now been killed in combat in Iraq. But the defence secretary was pressed about the future of Iraq and the approximately 140,000 US troops there.
"The facts on the ground" will determine how fast troops from the United States and its coalition partners leave, he said.
Rumsfeld, who has previously said he wanted US troops out of Iraq before the end of the next four-year term of President George W. Bush, said the Iraqis now "have opportunities they never could have thought of under that vicious dictator" Saddam Hussein.
"The Iraqi people are going to have to grab a hold of their country and make their country work. In the last analysis you can't do that for someone else all you can do is create the environment that allows them to do that. That is what is happening."
The defence secretary, who attended the inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday, went from the camp to a meeting with Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah and Defence Minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak al-Sabah.
"Kuwait is a key coalition partner in the region. We look forward to continuing our close cooperation," Rumsfeld was quoted as saying in a statement released by the US embassy in Kuwait.
"The Kuwaiti government has taken steps to block the spread of extremism by freezing terrorist assets and detaining terrorist suspects," Rumsfeld added.
From Kuwait, Rumsfeld flew on to New Delhi for talks with the government there.
US troops listen as US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld addresses them at Camp Buehring in Kuwait before their scheduled departure for Iraqi combat-zones.(AFP/Pool/Larry Downing)