[Independent] Bombs kill 60 as US general admits fewer Iraqis are ready to take over

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M.G.G. Pillai

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Sep 29, 2005, 8:27:58 PM9/29/05
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The Independent, London


Bombs kill 60 as US general admits fewer Iraqis are ready to take over

By Genevieve Roberts

Published: 30 September 2005

More than 60 people were killed when three suicide bombers launched
simultaneous car bomb attacks in the mainly Shia town of Balad
yesterday, 50 miles north of Baghdad.

At least 70 people were injured by the suicide bombs, which went off
in a vegetable market, by a bank and by a police station, killing the
head of police.

The top American commander in Iraq, General George Casey, told the
congressional committee in Washington that the "next 75 days are
going to be critical" for Iraq's future.

He told the Senate Armed Services Committee that if the constitution
is rejected, the situation in Iraq may deteriorate further, as
violence in Iraq escalates ahead of the 15 October referendum on a
new constitution.

General Casey also said that the number of Iraqi army battalions
rated by US officers as capable of fighting without US help had
dropped from three to one. He did not explain why the number had
dropped from three in June to one now. The Pentagon has built its
Iraq strategy on the expectation that it can begin bringing American
troops home as the Iraqis gradually take the lead in the fight
against the insurgency.

"That contributes to a loss of public confidence in how the war is
going," Senator Susan Collins, said of the gereral's remarks. "It
doesn't feel like progress when we hear today there is only one Iraqi
battalion fully capable."

The training effort has progressed far slower than once expected, and
General Casey acknowledged that it has been hurt by infiltration of
the army and Iraqi police by insurgents and their sympathisers. The
general said 75 percent of the US-trained Iraqi army was at least
capable of engaging in combat, albeit with US troops providing
support in most cases.

He declined to give an exact breakdown of Iraqi combat readiness,
which he said was classified as secret, but he said more than 30
battalions are judged capable of taking the lead in an offensive,
with US support. Only one can operate entirely on its own.

Senator John McCain said he was troubled that with such uneven
progress in training the Iraqi army, the Bush administration is still
planning for the possible withdrawal of some US troops from Iraq next
year.

General Casey declined to predict, as he had in July, that the
Pentagon could make a substantial troop withdrawal next year if
political progress continues and the insurgency does not grow more
violent. But he added under questioning by committee members that
troop reductions were possible in 2006.

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.
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