US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has made an unannounced visit to Iraq. He held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and inspected Iraqi security forces trained by his troops.
The highest-ranking American to set foot in Iraq since the 30th January election, Rumsfeld said Iraqis must accept responsibility for defeating insurgents:
“It is the task of the Iraqi security forces to provide security for Iraq,” he said. “And it is the task of the coalition to help them arrive at a point where they have the capability and the capacity to do that.”
He added that he was impressed with the progress he had seen.
Rumsfeld watched live fire exercises in Baghdad involving Iraqi trainees for a police paramilitary unit.
Washington is trying to rebuild the Iraqi army and police force. It is urging its NATO partners to play a greater role.
Donald Rumsfeld said the election had been a good day for Iraq but that challenges still lay ahead. His visit came against a background of intense violence in recent days.
On Friday alone, a suicide car bomber killed 13 people outside a Shi’ite mosque northeast of the capital, while militants fought a pitched battle with police southeast of Baghdad. Some 10 officers were reported dead. Dozens more were injured. A total of 20 insurgents were said to have been killed.
There has also been fresh bloodshed in Baghdad itself, with nine people killed in a bakery when gunmen opened fire.