The Iraqi president on Sunday sharply criticized the bipartisan U.S. report calling for a new approach to the war, saying it contained dangerous recommendations that would undermine his country’s sovereignty and were "an insult to the people of Iraq."
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd and one of the staunchest U.S. supporters within the Iraqi leadership, also said U.S. training of Iraq’s army and police had gone "from failure to failure."
He criticized the recommendation by the Iraq Study Group calling for increasing the number of U.S. troops embedded with Iraqi units to train Iraq’s forces from 3,000 to 4,000 currently to 10,000 to 20,000.
"It is not respecting the desire of the Iraqi people to control its army and to be able to rearm and train Iraqi forces under the leadership of the Iraqi government," he said during an interview with several reporters in his office in Baghdad.
Talabani was the most senior government official to take a stand against the report, which has also come under sharp criticism from American conservatives who claim it amounts to a veiled surrender in the war against terror.
Outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, in a surprise farewell visit to U.S. troops in Iraq this weekend, said the consequences of the war’s failure would be "unacceptable."
"We feel great urgency to protect the American people from another 9/11 or a 9/11 times two or three. At the same time, we need to have the patience to see this task through to success. The consequences of failure are unacceptable," Rumsfeld said at al-Asad air base in western Iraq. "The enemy must be defeated."
Talabani said the Iraqi government planned to send a letter to President Bush "expressing our views about the main issues" in the report. He would not elaborate.
"I believe that President George Bush is a brave and committed man and he is adamant to support the Iraqi government until they’ve reached success," Talabani said. He said setting conditions was "an insult to the people of Iraq."
Talabani’s criticism of U.S. training was directed at a key part of the study group’s recommendation, which called for accelerated training of Iraqi forces and the withdrawal of most U.S. combat troops by the first quarter of 2008.
Some U.S. military experts have expressed concern that Iraqi forces will not be ready to assume full responsibility for the fighting by then. However, opposition to the war is rising within the United States, increasing pressure on Bush to shift strategy.
A roadside bomb killed one U.S. soldier and wounded another Sunday west of Baghdad, the military said. The death raised to 43 the number of troops who have died this month and pushed the total U.S. military death toll to 2,931 since the war started nearly four years ago.
Talabani said the 2008 date was realistic if the Iraqi government is given more responsibility for security.
"If we can agree with the U.S. government to give us the right of organizing, training, arming our armed forces, it will be possible in 2008 (for U.S.-led forces) to start to leave Iraq and to go back home," he said.
"If you read this report, one would think that it is written for a young, small colony that they are imposing these conditions on," Talabani said. "We are a sovereign country."
He also pointed to the report’s call for the approval of a law that would allow thousands of officials from Saddam Hussein’s ousted Baath party to return to their jobs.
Meanwhile, sectarian violence raged on the streets of Baghdad on Sunday, with a fresh outburst of retaliatory attacks and clashes between Shiites and Sunnis. At least 83 people were killed or found dead throughout the country, including 59 bullet-riddled bodies that turned up in Baghdad.
Late Saturday, gunmen attacked two Shiite homes in western Baghdad, killing nine men and seriously wounding another, police said. Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, which police said occurred in the mostly Sunni Arab al-Jihad neighborhood, but it apparently was in retaliation for a bold assault earlier in the day against Sunnis.
Witnesses said Shiite militiamen entered a Sunni enclave in Hurriyah — a predominantly Shiite neighborhood — after Sunnis warned the few Shiites living there to leave or be killed. Heavy machine gun fire was heard on Saturday and three columns of black smoke rose into the sky, the witnesses said on condition of anonymity, also out of concern for their own safety.
Baghdad has been suffering from a series of attacks aimed at driving Sunnis or Shiites out of neighborhoods of the capital where they form a minority. Omar Abdul-Sattar, a member of the Sunni Arab Iraqi Islamic Party, said Sunday that an organized effort was under way in Hurriyah to force Sunnis out, and he accused Iraq’s Shiite-led government of doing little to stop the violence.
Abdul-Sattar claimed that during the past five months, more than 300 Sunni families have been displaced from Hurriyah, more than 100 Sunnis killed and 200 wounded, and at least five Sunni mosques burned, along with houses and shops.
Clashes also erupted between Sunni and Shiite militants in Baghdad’s mixed western Amil district, a policeman said. One Shiite militiaman was killed and six people — five Sunnis and one Shiite — were wounded, the officer said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media.
The fighting ended with U.S. and Iraqi forces rushing to the area to contain it, he said.
Rumsfeld, casually dressed in a gray jacket and an open-collar shirt, traveled to several different U.S. bases in the country on Sunday, shaking hands and joking with troops.
"For the past six years, I have had the opportunity and, I would say, the privilege, to serve with the greatest military on the face of the Earth," Rumsfeld said to more than 1,200 soldiers and Marines at al-Asad, a sprawling air base in western Anbar province, an insurgent stronghold.
Rumsfeld did not meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during his visit. He kept the trip low-profile, with his office declining to discuss his itinerary or schedule in detail for security reasons. He returned to Washington Sunday night, Pentagon spokesman Eric Ruff said.
Associated Press writers Thomas Wagner and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad, Will Weissert at al-Asad and AP military writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.