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Coalition forces seeking to recruit more Iraqi defense forces

BAGHDAD, Iraq—U.S.-led coalition forces are intensifying efforts to recruit Iraqi police, civil defense forces and border guards as attacks on American troops rise, the U.S. military commander in Iraq said Wednesday.

"All of those areas are being pursued more aggressively," said Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. "We're working very aggressively at a more significant pace than we had originally thought to get these programs in place."

But, he said, Iraqi Governing Council head Iyad Allawi's suggestion that the coalition reinstate the Iraqi Army was "no option at this point."

Attacks on U.S.-led forces continue daily in Baghdad and in the "Sunni Triangle" north and west of the capital, and in recent days there have been armed clashes with gunmen from the country's Shiite majority.

All of these incidents underscore the precarious nature of order and security in Iraq. Coalition officials apparently want to get more Iraqis involved in order to prevent security problems from spinning out of control.

Sanchez said the number of attacks against American troops in Iraq is on the rise, averaging 20 to 25 a day with a "spike" of 35 in one day recently. That's double the rate of attacks three months ago.

A total of 104 Americans have been killed by hostile fire since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1. Since the March 20 invasion, 339 Americans have died, 218 of them in combat.

A roadside bomb hit a convoy in Baghdad at about 6:40 a.m. Wednesday, the military said. Two 1st Armored Division soldiers were injured as their three-Humvee convoy passed through a tunnel under Tayeran Square.

A roadside bomb wrecked a U.S. military vehicle in the tribal town of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, which has become a flashpoint for attacks against soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division. Video footage from the Arab news network al Arabiya showed a mob of men looting a burning Humvee and calling for jihad, or holy war, against American troops.

Military officials released no information about casualties in that incident.

The bombing occurred on the western edge of Fallujah, where one American paratrooper was killed and seven were wounded Monday.

Iraqi police and civil defense forces, backed by U.S. and Polish troops and armor, raided a mosque Tuesday in Karbala, Iraq, that was held by gunmen of Muqtada al Sadr, a radical cleric. Sadr is suspected in connection with a string of suicide bombings in Baghdad and the attempted takeover of two Shiite mosques last week. The Iraqi forces arrested dozens of people.

The raid was endorsed by the Iraqi Governing Council and was said to have the backing of moderate Karbala clerics.

"This is just the latest success of Iraqi security forces as the Iraqi people and the security element continue to assume a more prominent role in establishing their own law and order," Sanchez said.

Three U.S. soldiers, including a lieutenant colonel, were killed in Karbala a week ago when they attempted to disarm the bodyguard of a little-known radical cleric said to be aligned with Sadr.

On Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that more than 85,000 Iraqi forces have been trained in just over five months.

There are 132,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq. Most are scheduled to rotate out in the first half of next year. There are also 24,000 troops from 32 other countries.

Amer Hussain Fayad, a political science professor at the University of Baghdad, said the coalition's decision to disband the Iraqi army after the invasion was its biggest mistake because it put thousands of unemployed and angry men on the street.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTO on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Ricardo Sanchez