By Geoff Elliott
The weekend’s second anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq proved to be another bloody one but US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has sheeted home at least some of the blame for the troubles to Turkey.
Rumsfeld yesterday hailed Iraq’s liberation and January elections but said the insurgents’ success was a result of the Government in Ankara blocking US troops from entering Iraq from Turkey–to the north.
"Given the level of the insurgency today–two years later–clearly if we had been able to get the 4th Infantry Division in from the north–in through Turkey–more of the Iraqi–Saddam Hussein–Baathist regime would have been captured or killed," Rumsfeld told Fox News. "The insurgency today would be less."
Coalition troops were forced to use southern Iraq corridors–which the US military says allowed insurgents to evade capture in the north.
The US-Turkey standoff occurred partly in the context of Ankara’s concerns that any move to autonomy for Iraq’s northern Kurdish population would enliven its own ethnic Kurds in their drive to independence.
Rumsfeld said that by the time Baghdad was taken–Saddam’s military and intelligence personnel had escaped to the northern cities and were–"in a number of instances–still active."
But he was confident the Iraqi security forces were taking more responsibility for the insurgency and that it would gradually diminish.
At least 45 people were killed in weekend violence in Iraq–including a US soldier. In one of at least six deadly incidents–in the northern city of Mosul a suicide bomber blew himself up in a provincial anti-corruption department. The department’s chief–General Walid Kachmoula–died–as did two guards.
With more than 1500 US soldiers killed and about 11,000 wounded–many Americans are asking how much longer the occupation–involving about 152,000 US troops–will continue. Asked on the ABC network whether the US commitment could be reduced soon–Rumsfeld indicated that was possible. "We’re planning to bring the 152,000 down to about 135,000 or 137,000 or 140,000 over the coming weeks–now that the election is behind us."
Washington expects Iraq’s security forces to reach 200,000 members by the northern summer.