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Allawi outlines plans for Iraqi security forces as violence persists

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Calling the U.S. decision last year to dissolve the Iraqi army "a big mistake," Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi promised Sunday to mold the nation's beleaguered security forces into a guerrilla-fighting network with the brawn of the former regime, minus the brutality.

On the same day that Allawi outlined his plans for improving security measures, there was widespread violence throughout Iraq.

Two Iraqi civil defense corps soldiers were killed and eight wounded in a roadside bomb attack in western Baghdad, U.S. military officials said. A bombing near Baghdad's Central Bank wounded several Iraqis, witnesses said. Small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades wounded two U.S. soldiers Saturday night, and U.S. aircraft counterattacked in Baghdad's Sadr City, a military spokesman said.

And to the north, in the town of Samarra, 10 Iraqis were reportedly killed and about 12 injured in fighting Sunday with U.S. troops—figures that military officials in Baghdad said they could not confirm.

Insurgents "have attacked bases in and around Samarra several times over the past few days," a U.S. military spokesman said. "We aren't keeping comprehensive casualty counts of enemy fighters."

Allawi told journalists in Baghdad that Iraq's new security forces would be organized into police and national guard units to root out insurgents, far-flung patrols to seal the border, a coast guard to secure vital ports, an air force to watch over electrical and oil lines, and even special forces to "strike terrorists before they have a chance to hit innocent people."

He said the units would be coordinated through regional and national offices under a committee for national security, an effort to centralize what is now a scattered Iraqi security operation.

But asked for specifics of how many troops he hopes to have—versus how many there are now—and exactly how all the military units would operate, Allawi said he didn't have time to explain.

He acknowledged, however, that he is counting on a partnership with U.S.-led troops to fight the nation's persistent insurgency even after the return of sovereignty to Iraqis on July 1.

"Definitely, dissolving the army was a big mistake," Allawi said. "We do not have full capabilities. That's why we've asked the multinational forces to remain."

Allawi pleaded for much-needed equipment and support from neighboring countries, some of which have been accused of funding Iraq's deadly insurgency and allowing foreign fighters to cross their borders into Iraq.

"The enemy we are fighting is truly evil, they have nothing to offer the Iraqi people except death and destruction," Allawi said.

So far, Iraqi security troops and police have been hit hard by attacks. A bombing at a recruitment center last week killed at least 36 and wounded 138, leaving body parts and debris scattered across four lanes of traffic. Much of the Iraqi military apparatus is under-trained, short of supplies and unpopular with many Iraqis, who see it as an arm of the U.S. occupation.

Told of Allawi's plan, Mahmoud Alaa Mahmoud, a Baghdad grocery store worker and former first lieutenant in the Iraqi Army, said he missed the military life but wouldn't join under the present circumstances.

Asked what would have to change for him to sign up, Mahmoud said he would put on a uniform again "only if there was a good government that represents the people. I am an officer, and I will not take orders from an American because that is against my dignity."

Allawi said his proposed restructuring of the military had been approved by his top-level national security committee, which includes the finance, defense, interior and foreign affairs ministers.

Abdul Latif Rashid, water resources minister and a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, was cautious about the proposal. The Kurds were violently oppressed by Saddam Hussein and his military, including a chemical weapons attack that killed thousands.

"You can regroup divisions, you have to have military structure and discipline, but I don't think the Iraqi people will accept Saddam's army back," Rashid said.

"It's not the shape of the plane or the color of the uniform. The Iraqi people were against the message of the old regime," Rashid said. "We hope this new army will work in defense of the Iraqi people."

The plan seemed popular with some on the streets of Baghdad, where those interviewed said they'd be willing to accept the risk of the new military if it could stop the car bombings that have rocked the capital.

"It's hard for me to believe that there are some people in the Army whose hands are not covered with blood," said Ali Abdullah, a customs worker. "But it is necessary that they return because only the army can bring back our security."


(Lasseter reports for The Miami Herald.)


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

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Iyad Allawi