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U.S. commander sees no end to violence in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Amid a spree of attacks on hotels, the U.S. Army commander of Baghdad on Thursday said while the coalition is winning the war, there's no end in sight to Iraq's reign of terror and that "there's not enough concrete in the hemisphere" to defend every hotel in the capital.

"We are putting in place the mechanisms to defeat terror," said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey, overall commander of U.S. operations in Baghdad, disclosing that nearly half of the 47,000 security forces in the capital are Iraqis who are equipped, trained and vetted by the coalition to someday police their own country.

Meantime, he said, both civilians and coalition forces must "be on the offensive. You cannot sit back and wait for a terrorist to pick the point of his choosing."

Dempsey said U.S. raids by his 1st Armored Division had just captured an unidentified Jordanian with links to Abu Mussab al Zarqawi, the man coalition officials frequently blame as the mastermind for murderous attacks on Iraqis designed to disrupt coalition cooperation.

But a car bomb blew up in broad daylight Thursday outside a hotel in the southern city of Basra, killing three bystanders near the building sometimes used by British coalition forces. Gunmen also opened fire on a minibus in Baquoba, northeast of Baghdad, killing three Iraqi television journalists and wounding nine others who work at a coalition-sponsored station.

Hours later, insurgents again mortared the Green Zone where coalition officials are managing the occupation, sending booms and sirens echoing through the night. Almost simultaneously, rockets or mortars rattled the Karrada district, near two hotels, one called the Sinbad Palace that has been popular with visiting Kurds. No casualties were immediately reported.

These attacks came a day after a suicide car bomber apparently hit the trigger on a 1,000-pound bomb prematurely, destroying the Mount Lebanon Hotel but averting more widespread mayhem because, U.S. military commanders said, he did it in the street, rather than driving into a building. The mishap may have been responsible for a macabre sort of good news. Only seven people—not the originally reported 27—were killed in the hotel, the U.S. military announced, after consulting Iraqi police and ministry of health reports.

Dempsey is considered one of the military's foremost authorities on the insurgency here. Asked how long it might take to restore security here, the general replied that he ends his one-year tour in a month: "I have no idea. It's not going to be done by the time I leave.

"We are winning. And the enemy is evolving in a way that is somewhat predictable, " said Dempsey, describing a shifting strategy from more conventional military clashes with remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime to more shadowy terror tactics.

To thwart what Dempsey called "the crucible of terror," he described an ongoing effort to train enough post-regime Iraqi forces to fight for themselves and simultaneously persuade Iraqis that their problems are not all caused by foreign fighters.

Dempsey said he commands 47,000 in Baghdad, including 22,000 Iraqi police and paramilitary civil defense forces that were trained and recruited, many of them former Iraqi Army members, under a scheme to someday handoff overall security to Iraq.

Nearly a year ago, he said, the U.S.-led coalition had 36,000 troops, none Iraqi, in 46 bases scattered throughout the city. Under a plan to better protect themselves while staging raids, Dempsey has reduced that to just eight bases for 25,000 mostly U.S. soldiers.

Still, he conceded the new handpicked Iraqi forces are not ready to take over urban security. For example, he said, the freshly trained Civil Defense enlistees, a paramilitary force that worked side-by-side with U.S. forces to secure Wednesday's hotel bombing site, have yet to receive communications devices or vehicles. A contract is being arranged.

The Iraqi Civil Defense commander said they got a ride to the hotel bombing with U.S. troops.

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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