In Iraq today, coalition forces stepped up efforts to improve security around the country as another American soldier was shot and killed by hostile fire. The victim is the fifth American solider to die in a spate of attacks on coalition forces this week. The violence also comes as British Prime Minister Tony Blair became the first Western leader to visit Iraq since the end of major fighting in the country. VOA-TV’s Chris Simkins has more.
British Prime Minister Blair arrived in southern Iraq for a visit designed to boost the morale of British troops who have been working to rebuild the country. Mr. Blair came to Iraq to get a first hand look at reconstruction efforts.
In Basra, he praised the British soldiers for their role in liberating Iraq and he told them their peacekeeping work now will have a long-term impact.
TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER
“I would like to think that in maybe a year or two year’s time it’s going to be possible for some of you to come back here and see changes in this country that have arisen from what you have done today.”
But in other parts of the country there was more violence Thursday. North of Baghdad an American soldier was killed in a roadside attack on a main supply route.
This week alone, 9 American solders have been killed and two dozen others injured by hostile fire or in accidents. U.S. soldiers are now on a heightened alert. In the Iraqi City of Karbala U.S. Marines joined forces with local police in a search for illegal weapons and ammunition.
Meanwhile in Baghdad the U.S. First Armored Division assumed responsibility for security. As soldiers patrol the streets Iraqi citizens are being encouraged to hand over all of their weapons. Beginning next week Iraqis will be banned from owning high-powered machine guns and from carrying weapons in public.
But violence and lawlessness remain a problem in many sections of the country. The Bush administration is coming under increasing criticism for not having enough troops to provide adequate security for civilians and soldiers. The New York Times reports that coalition military commanders are planning to keep a larger force in Iraq than previously anticipated.
The newspaper cites senior American officials as saying commanders are also planning to send battle-hardened units to trouble spots outside Baghdad. Last February, the U.S. Army’s chief of staff General Eric Shinseki predicted that hundreds of thousands of American troops would be needed to secure Iraq after the war. At that time Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld criticized that assessment as a gross overestimate.
As security remains a concern, efforts to rebuild the country continue. The U.S. civil administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer says his team is making progress but the job ahead will not be easy.
PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVIL ADMINISTRATOR
“It has occurred to me that this could take a long time. And I’m not going to let it take forever. It won’t be perfect, we’ll keep some people in the government that really should be fired. We may fire some people who could be useful. It’s rough and ready.”
As the reconstruction goes on, U.S. officials are preparing more assessments on just how many troops it will take to maintain security and stability in Iraq over the coming months.