Is worst yet to come in Iraq?
Senior Bush official says insurgents likely to step up attacks as terrorists try to derail constitution, elections

June 17, 2005

WASHINGTON -- During a terrible week for violence in Iraq, a senior administration official yesterday warned that the worst is yet to come.

Five Marines and a sailor were killed Wednesday in attacks west of Baghdad, the U.S. military announced yesterday, a day that also brought news of a suicide bomber in Baghdad who killed at least eight police officers and wounded 25 others.

"I think you'll see it continuing up, because the terrorists know what's coming," said the official, speaking as peace demonstrators chanted outside the White House.

He said that militants are "once again trying to derail" progress in Iraq, in this case the writing of a constitution and holding of elections tentatively scheduled for later this year.

"We have a rough road ahead of us," the official said in an unusual moment of openness by the Bush administration on the war. His comments appeared aimed at preparing a public - that polls show is increasingly disillusioned by the war - for even more bad news.

The official spoke after one of the bloodiest weeks in the war, in which at least 17 U.S. servicemen and 155 Iraqis have been reported killed.

The violence comes just four months after U.S. generals had begun to predict the beginning of a U.S. pullout from Iraq early next year. Such predictions have completely stopped.

Now, in addition to Gallup and Washington Post/ABC News polls showing a decrease in public support for the war, there are signs of restlessness on Capitol Hill as well. Yesterday, four U.S. lawmakers, including two Republicans from the South, announced they would introduce legislation requiring President George W. Bush to submit a timetable for a U.S. pullout.

The senior official yesterday rejected any deadlines, saying they would either increase attacks or give the insurgents reason to wait for the pullout.

He said the administration remains convinced that its strategy is working, with progress on the political front as well as in training and equipping Iraqi soldiers to take over the fight themselves.

"There is a timeline, and we're still on it," he said.

But he came back to the new, realistic tone about Iraq.

"Nobody denies the loss of life and the carnage that is being wreaked on the Iraqi people and on us by the terrorists," he said.

Amid the violence, Iraqi lawmakers yesterday celebrated a political breakthrough: After weeks of back-and-forth, Shia politicians reached a compromise that will include Sunni Arabs, who largely boycotted January's elections, in drafting Iraq's new constitution. The stalemate over who should be allowed to draft it had threatened Iraq's political process as it was entering its final stretch, with two key nationwide votes planned for later this year: a referendum on the constitution in October and, if it passes, a general election in December.

Under the compromise announced yesterday, the new panel will include the existing members, 15 additional Sunni Arabs with full voting rights and 10 more Sunnis in an advisory, nonvoting role.

Adnan Janabi, head of a subcommittee that has been negotiating for weeks to involve more Sunnis in the process, called the compromise "the best we could reach. It was unanimously agreed upon by both sides."

But Salih Mutlak, who leads a Sunni coalition known as the National Dialogue Council, said: "We bitterly agreed on the decision. The country is in a critical situation, and if we don't agree, the political process will be delayed."

Nearly 1,100 people have died in violence since the Shia-led government took office seven weeks ago. The American deaths announced yesterday occurred in volatile Anbar province, a longtime hotspot. The Marines died after their vehicle was attacked near Ramadi, the military said. A sailor attached to the Marines' unit, the 2nd Marine Division's II Marine Expeditionary Force, was killed in Ramadi by gunfire, the military said.

In Baghdad yesterday, the suicide bomber plowed his black sedan into a truck carrying police officers on the road connecting Baghdad with its airport.

In other developments:

A judge and his bodyguard were killed by gunmen in eastern Mosul.

A roadside bomb in Mosul killed an Iraqi police officer, officials said.

Police found the bodies of 11 people in two towns in the so-called Triangle of Death area south of Baghdad, an official said.

Phelps is Washington bureau chief. The story was supplemen- ted with wire service reports.


U.S. casualties in Iraq

March 20, 2003: War begins
Jan. 17, 2004: 500 killed
Sept. 7, 2004: 1,000 killed
March 3, 2005: 1,500 killed
To date: 1,714 killed
This month: 47 killed

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