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Iraq Transition

Rumsfeld in Iraq: No political delays

Attacks kill 14 civilians as raids keep pressure on insurgents

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Military and political issues are topics of Rumsfeld's visit to Iraq.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made an unannounced visit to Baghdad Tuesday, praising Iraq for its fledgling democracy and noting improvements in the country's security forces.

Rumsfeld also urged Iraq's new leaders to maintain nation-building momentum without political favoritism and corruption.

Violent conflicts continued, meanwhile, as 14 Iraqi civilians were killed in four attacks and an American contractor was abducted Monday in broad daylight.

Rumsfeld met with Iraq's new transitional president, Jalal Talabani, and the prime minister-designate, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, telling both that the United States wants no delays in plans for the next round of elections in December.

The visit took place as the transitional government -- scheduled to be filled out this week with the selection of a Cabinet -- decides on an Iraqi defense minister. That official, as Rumsfeld's Iraqi counterpart, would work closely with the Pentagon.

Several million Iraqis braved insurgent threats to elect a transitional National Assembly in January. After the vote, more than two months lapsed before lawmakers last week named Talabani president.

Rumsfeld held press conferences with al-Jaafari and Ayad Allawi, the prime minister of the outgoing interim government whose potential role in the new leadership remains unknown.

The political process, Rumsfeld said, "is having an effect in the region."

The defense secretary said he hopes political transitions "will take place without undue disruptions, or turbulence, in the excellent progress that's being made in respect to the Iraqi security forces."

"It would be most unfortunate if these changes caused a delay or a disruption in the progress that we've seen," he said.

"Because our goal and the goal of the coalition forces is to pass off the responsibility for security to the Iraqi security forces as soon as they're capable."

Rumsfeld's visit was his ninth trip to Baghdad since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. While recruiting and retention remain a problem for the Army, more than 100 service members took the opportunity of the visit to re-enlist.

At a town hall meeting with U.S. soldiers, Rumsfeld handed out medals for valor and answered questions from troops anxious to know when their tours might end.

While U.S. military commanders are busy making plans for possible troop reductions over the next year, Rumsfeld avoided any predictions on when the roughly 137,000 U.S. troops would be cut back.

"We don't have an exit strategy," he said. "We have a victory strategy."

Talabani said in a CNN interview Sunday he expects that U.S. troops will be gone from his country within two years. (Full story)

Bush addresses soldiers in Texas

President Bush, speaking to cheering soldiers Tuesday in an address at Fort Hood in Texas, said Iraqi forces are making strides in training and are gaining the confidence of the Iraqi people and American forces.

In the past six months, Bush said, "More than 800 [Iraqis] have given their lives in the struggle."

Bush's speech and Rumsfeld's visit came days after the second anniversary of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime.

The president said Iraqi forces are becoming more self-reliant and are shouldering greater responsibilities, with the United States and other coalition partners playing more of a supporting role.

Bush noted that the more than 150,000 trained and equipped forces now "for the first time" surpass the number of American forces in Iraq.

Multiple car bombings

Insurgent attacks continued Tuesday, with a suicide car bomb killing five civilians in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar, the U.S. military said in a news release.

Eight people were wounded in the incident, including seven children, the military said.

In the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, a car bomb -- possibly targeting a U.S. patrol -- killed five Iraqi civilians and wounded three, according to a health official at an area hospital.

A second car bomb in Mosul wounded five Iraqi civilians and three U.S. soldiers, the military said.

On Monday night, a car bomb in Samarra killed three Iraqi civilians and wounded 22 others, including four U.S. soldiers, the military said.

Raids target insurgents

In Baghdad, Iraq's deputy interior minister, Maj. Gen. Tareq al-Baldawi, escaped injury in an attack on his convoy. But one of his bodyguards was killed and three others were wounded, police said.

Coalition raids Tuesday kept up the pressure on the insurgency.

The U.S. military said "initial reports indicate foreign terrorists, including at least one suicide bomber" were killed in a raid in al-Qaim, a western Iraqi town near the Syrian border.

The raid focused "on a known foreign-fighter and weapons-smuggling ring" and resulted from information given by other insurgents recently detained, the military said in a written statement.

There have been two other raids over the past week in the al-Qaim area, which is in Anbar province.

The military said those actions "resulted in the capture of smugglers who confessed to bringing weapons, foreign fighters and money for terrorists across the Syrian border."

Also Tuesday, the Iraqi government said its forces captured an insider from Saddam's ousted regime at a farm northeast of the capital.

Fadhil Ibrahim Mahmud al-Mashadani, a former high-ranking member of Saddam's Baath Party, was among "the main facilitators of many terrorist attacks in Iraq," the government said in a statement.

While al-Mashadani was not listed among the 55 most-wanted Iraqis, the Iraqi government had posted a $200,000 reward for information leading to his capture.

Al-Mashadani led Iraq's military bureau in Baghdad during Saddam's rule, the statement said, adding that he was "suspected of being a critical link between the senior Baathist leaders hiding in Syria and the terrorists within Iraq."

The Iraqi Defense Ministry said Tuesday troops had also arrested a man suspected of planning a car bomb attack.

Under questioning, the man identified as Naji Khalaf Ibrahim said he was an al Qaeda supporter and had relations with Syrian intelligence, the ministry said.

Other developments

  • For the first time since the Vietnam War, a U.S. soldier faces court-martial in the killing of other soldiers during wartime. The trial of Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar -- accused in a March 2003 grenade attack that killed two U.S. officers in Kuwait -- is set to resume Tuesday. (Full story)
  • Poland will withdraw troops from Iraq at the end of the year, Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said Tuesday, Reuters reported. The U.S. ally has about 1,700 soldiers in south-central Iraq, where it runs a multinational stabilization force. (Full story)
  • CNN's Enes Dulami, Kevin Flower, Jamie McIntyre, Enes Dulami and Ayman Mohyeldin contributed to this report.

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