BAGHDAD (AFP) â€” Iraq’s Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari vowed Tuesday to beef up security in the war-weary country, as US President George W. Bush said Washington and its Iraqi allies were making progress against the insurgency.
Meanwhile, four US troops, four Italians and one Iraqi soldier were killed in air crashes.
“I think the Iraqi government will be up to the task of defeating the insurgents,” Bush said at a White House press conference.
“I believe that the Iraqi government’s going to be plenty capable of dealing with them, and our job is to help train them so that they can,” he said.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said on CNN television that he hoped the trial of deposed leader Saddam Hussein on charges of crimes against humanity would begin within two months.
In Baghdad, Jaafari laid out his fledging government’s ambitions before parliament, focusing on the twin priorities of dealing with rampant insecurity and drawing up a permanent constitution before fresh elections in December.
The most pressing issue for the government, facing a sharp escalation in attacks since the Cabinet was sworn in early May, remains how to tackle the insurgency with some 700 people killed during the month.
“In order to accelerate a return to stability, the government will allocate sufficient funds to relaunch the intelligence and national defence services,” the prime minister said.
Jaafari also repeated the idea of setting up a truth and justice commission, similar to one created in post-apartheid South Africa, to end once and for all recriminations over crimes committed under Saddam.
Talabani later said that a trial for Saddam himself might begin “within two months I think.”
“The Iraqi government is now doing its best to prepare the ground for a court which will be able to decide… about Saddam Hussein’s future,” the Kurdish leader said.
The four dead American soldiers were travelling with the Iraqi on a mission in eastern Diyala province Monday when their Iraqi air force light plane crashed, US Lieutenant Colonel Fred Wellman said, without elaborating on the cause.
Four Italians died in another crash in the south of the country when their military helicopter crashed during overnight near the city of Nassiriya, where Italian troops are based, the Italian army said.
Officials said the crash was likely accidental, but the deaths prompted renewed calls for Italy to withdraw its 3,000-strong contingent from Iraq.
Ten people died in other violence in Iraq, including three police commandos killed during an assault in the capital and a television anchorman who was shot in the north, security sources said.
A convoy of interior ministry commandos came under attack in Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighbourhood, leaving three dead and seven wounded, while two Iraqi soldiers were killed in an attack on their convoy near Baquba, north of the capital.
The Ansar Sunna group linked to Al Qaeda claimed the attack on the convoy.
The Iraqi government announced that the governor of the restive western province of Anbar, Nawaf Raja Farhan Mahalawi, had been found dead after he was taken hostage during a major US sweep of the area earlier this month.
Rebels with ties to the network of Iraq’s most wanted man, Abu Musab Zarqawi, claimed they captured the governor as US forces pressed on with “Operation Matador,” during which the militant was reportedly wounded.
An audio message attributed to Zarqawi and posted on the Internet late Monday said he had only been lightly wounded and was still with his troops, the latest in a series of contradictory messages on the health of the Al Qaeda frontman.
In the northern city of Mosul, local public television anchorman Girgis Mahmoud Mohammad was shot and killed, while a policeman was shot dead in another part of the city.
North of Baghdad, three other people, including an Asian truck driver whose nationality was unknown, were killed in separate attacks that also left six wounded, including one woman, police sources said.
And near Samarra, 125 miles north of Baghdad, three decapitated and partially decomposed bodies were discovered, a police source said.
Iraqi troops, meanwhile, stepped-up Operation Lightning, the largest domestic security operation to date, manning roadblocks and checking vehicles entering Baghdad for arms and explosives.
The offensive involving up to 40,000 soldiers and policemen aims to cut off rebel access to the capital, which is to be divided into 22 separate sectors in two areas east and west of the Tigris River.
“That was a very positive sign. It’s a sign that they â€” the Iraqi leaders â€” understand they are responsible for their security, ultimately, and that our job is to help them take on that responsibility,” Bush said Tuesday of the operation.
On the political front, moderate Sunni leader Mohsen Abdul Hamid described in detail the detention of himself and his three sons by US troops in a dawn raid on Monday.
“It was terrifying, they came with dogs which they unleashed on the guards and turned the house upside down,” Hamid told journalists.
He expressed his indignation that the US military had not yet made a formal apology, despite having admitted the mistake, and said that money seized had not yet been returned.