The top U.S. military officer in Iraq says the coalition is likely to raise salaries for some members of the new Iraqi army to keep more soldiers from defecting. He also says he expects an increase in resistance attacks against U.S. troops, the coalition and civilian targets over the next several months.
The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, says the coalition is currently examining the pay scale for members of the Iraqi security forces, and expects to make some kind of decision about raising salaries in the next few weeks.
Military officials say about 300 of the first 700 recruits in the new Iraqi army have already left the first battalion, which recently started patrolling with the U.S. 4th Infantry Division. General Sanchez says their main complaints were their salaries.
"The exodus was primarily from those that had families and were married," said General Sanchez. "The recruits we have been able to retain, they're getting paid $60 month, and then there's a graduated scale above that. So, the recruits are not the problem. It's the allowances for married soldiers and the fact that they've got to support families. That's where our challenges are, and that's what we're looking at right now."
The general says the 2nd battalion is still in training, and recruitment for the new Iraqi army is on target.
General Sanchez also says the number of attacks against coalition troops has dropped dramatically, to an average of about 20 a day. At the height of the insurgency, there were 35 attacks a day on average, the general says, and on at least one day, they reached a high point of more than 50.
He says U.S. troops are getting better intelligence from the Iraqi people, allowing them to arrest more potential attackers before they can act.
The general hopes that with better intelligence, the military raids can continue to be more precisely targeted at what he calls "anti-coalition elements," rather than the sweeping offensives that have been conducted in the past, and which, the general says, "have the possibility of creating more enemies."
But General Sanchez also says he believes there will be an upsurge in attacks against coalition military and civilian targets over the next few months.
"The assessments that I have made about the expected increase in violence over the next four to five months is an assessment that we have arrived at, and that I personally have arrived at, based on what I see happening in the country with the enemy, based on what I see as their objectives, and based on what they have to lose in the timeframe between now and sovereignty being handed over to the Iraqi people," he said.
There have been at least three suicide bombings at U.S. military bases over the last several days, but the general says no U.S. troops have been killed in those attacks, and most of the injuries have been light. The Baghdad headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition came under mortar fire in the early hours of Friday morning, but nobody was wounded in that attack, either.