U.S. Urges Iraqi Leader to Answer Violence

By Jonathan Finer and Bradley Graham
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 14, 2005

BAGHDAD, May 13 -- After nearly three weeks of unrelenting attacks by insurgents, U.S. military officials are urging Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari to respond with strong and decisive action or risk erosion of confidence and a widening sense of insecurity among Iraqis.

Army Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. officer in Iraq, conferred with Jafari on Thursday and Friday in meetings that other U.S. officials said focused on reviewing options and encouraging a firm government response to the violence. More significant than what the government might do, one senior military officer said, is the fact that the government be seen as doing something.

"The perception of governance is important," he said.

The prodding comes during a wave of violence that has taken more than 400 lives since a new government was chosen two weeks ago from among legislators elected in January.

"These are the standard meetings to share ideas about the security situation," said Jafari's spokesman, Laith Kubba. "We have them regularly."

A U.S. officer familiar with the discussions said U.S. authorities were making the new leaders aware of the Iraqi security forces' current capabilities and how those forces might be deployed. Iraqi officials also were encouraged to engage in a more aggressive public information campaign about measures being taken to combat the insurgency.

Jafari extended for 30 more days the country's six-month-old state of emergency, which was declared in November in the hours before the invasion of Fallujah, an insurgent stronghold. Officials said other actions under consideration include an extension of curfews in Baghdad and Mosul to limit the mobility of insurgents and the cancellation of leaves for security personnel to bolster Iraq's forces.

Friday night, Interior Ministry officials announced the capture of Palestinian men said to be responsible for a car bombing that killed at least 14 people in Baghdad on Thursday. They were shown on television looking haggard, and one had a black eye.

Iraqi officials say they believe the insurgents' onslaught is timed to undermine the delicate governing balance among Iraq's religious and ethnic factions. It took three months to form a cabinet that incorporated Sunni Arabs, who largely boycotted the elections and are therefore underrepresented in the assembly. Though Sunnis are a minority group in Iraq, they dominated the Iraqi government and military under Saddam Hussein and are believed to make up the bulk of the insurgency.

All but one cabinet post set aside for Sunni Arabs have now been filled.

"We won the political battle of getting the Sunnis in. We now have to win the military and intelligence battles," Kubba said. "The insurgents want to create the appearance of confusion so they have a new cover to hide behind. They are determined to make people feel the government is not going to show them protection."

In interviews this week, a number of U.S. officers have stressed that the insurgency will likely take years to defeat and that surges in violence like the current one are to be expected. They have emphasized that ultimately success will come not through military measures, but through a lasting political accommodation among Iraq's Shiite and Sunni Arabs and Sunni Kurds.

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