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BREMER TOUTS U.S. SUCCESSES IN IRAQ 100 DAYS BEFORE HANDOVER
BAGHDAD, Iraq In a speech that was more pep talk than policy outline, chief U.S. administrator Paul Bremer told the Iraqi people Wednesday that a scheduled June 30 hand-over of power would restore their sovereignty over a nation "on a path to full democracy, in a united state, at peace with its neighbors."
Bremer announced that he would set up an Iraqi Defense Ministry and a Cabinet-level National Security Committee this week. But most of the address, timed to mark the 100 days until the U.S. hands over sovereignty, served to extol accomplishments piled up since Saddam Hussein was toppled nearly a year ago.
The ruling coalition has rehabilitated more than 2,500 schools, Bremer said. Iraq's electricity supply is better today than it was before the war began. More than 1 million Iraqis in this nation of 24 million now have phone service, also better than under Hussein. And 200,000 Iraqis are serving in the security forces, he said.
But inadequate security, Bremer acknowledged, remains the greatest threat to a successful transfer of power. Though guerrilla attacks on U.S. and other coalition soldiers have eased in recent weeks, bombings and assassinations of foreigners and of Iraqis working with the occupation have become more frequent and more deadly.
The roar of U.S. military helicopters on patrol overhead, which at one point drowned out Bremer's words during the outdoor speech, provided a reminder of the constant threat from insurgents who have vowed to drive "the infidels and invaders" out of Iraq.
And there was more violence.
Rockets hit the Sheraton hotel and the main U.S. compound in Baghdad early Wednesday, wounding a foreign contractor, a U.S. official said. A roadside bombing during an ambush of an American patrol wounded two soldiers in Fallujah, and the subsequent firefight left three Iraqi civilians dead and three wounded.
Gunmen killed an Iraqi police chief in Musayyab, the southern town near where nine police cadets were shot to death Tuesday. And in the northern city of Mosul, roadside bombs wounded three Iraqi police officers and a civilian.
On the eastern outskirts of Baghdad, three civilians - a 3-year-old boy, his grandmother and a male relative - were killed when a mine exploded and destroyed the car they were riding in, according to relatives interviewed by The Associated Press. Six other people were wounded.
"Iraq's security is the first concern of Iraqi citizens - we hear it every day - and the top priority of the coalition," Bremer said.
The new Defense Ministry and the national security council will start working immediately with coalition forces, Bremer said. But with so little time before the occupation authority is to be disbanded, no one expects the Iraqis to provide security on their own.
"After June 30 the countries of the coalition will continue their commitment to the Iraqi people's security and success," Bremer said. "Our military forces will become full partners with Iraq's sovereign government in providing security to the Iraqi people."
Which countries will retain a military presence in Iraq is under debate.
Spain's incoming prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has vowed to remove his nation's 1,300 soldiers unless the United Nations is given control over much of the occupation.
Zapatero met Wednesday in Madrid with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who traveled to the Spanish capital for a state funeral in honor of the 190 victims of the March 11 terrorist bombings.
Powell and Zapatero agreed on the need for cooperation against terrorism, but the Spaniard made clear that he had not changed his stand on Iraq, a Bush administration official told The Associated Press. Zapatero's likely foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, told Reuters that the Socialist leader also had held firm in his talks with Blair.
Though not significant militarily, Spain's withdrawal from Iraq would leave Blair increasingly isolated in Europe over his support for President Bush's decision to wage war against Hussein. Other governments with troops in Iraq, including Poland with a sizable contingent, have come under pressure at home to reduce their military presence.
That would be a mistake, said Emma Bonino, a member of the European Parliament from Italy who was in Baghdad this week on a fact-finding mission.
"We have a quite different position from Zapatero," Bonino said at a news conference Tuesday. "Our message is not to abandon these people, not to abandon this country, no matter what the disagreements were about the war."
Bremer said the commitment of U.S. taxpayers, who according to him already have contributed $19 billion to Iraq's reconstruction, would continue well after June 30. And he outlined the four-step process designed to provide Iraq a directly elected government no later than Dec. 15, 2005.
"We're moving at rocket speed," said Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, a Shiite member of the Iraqi Governing Council. "The counting down has started."
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