BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – A suicide car bomber targeting a Baghdad gas station killed two people on Thursday, a day after dozens died across the country as the U.S. president insisted American troops must stay in Iraq until the job is done.
Despite the continuing bloodshed, U.S. authorities have expressed optimism that Iraqi forces will be ready to assume control of security operations with little coalition support within 18 months.
Still, this would not necessarily mean a withdrawal of U.S. troops.
“If we leave the streets of Baghdad before the job is done, we will have to face the terrorists in our own cities,” U.S. President George W. Bush said Wednesday as he prepared for a series of war speeches. “We will stay the course, we will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed and victory in Iraq will be a major ideological triumph in the struggle of the 21st century.”
In Baghdad, a suicide car bomb targeting a line of cars waiting at a Baghdad gas station killed two people and wounded 13, police Cap. Mohammed Abdul-Ghani said. U.S. forces took three of the wounded to their nearby base because their injuries were severe, while the others were taken to a local hospital, he said.
Due to a severe fuel shortage, lines of cars at Baghdad gas stations often stretch for several kilometers (miles), and drivers sometimes have to wait overnight to fill their cars.
Earlier in the day, a bomb exploded near a restaurant on Palestine Street, a main avenue in the east of the capital and the frequent site of explosions targeting U.S. and Iraqi forces.
The U.S. military reported an American soldier was killed north of the capital on Wednesday by a bomb blast while conducting a route security mission. It did not give details of the location.
Meanwhile, U.S. authorities released more than 30 detainees. The men were taken to a central bus station in the capital. Authorities did not give any details of what they had been detained for, or how long they had been held.
On Wednesday, top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, said Iraqi troops were on course to take over security control from U.S.-led coalition forces. “I don’t have a date, but I can see over the next 12 to 18 months, the Iraqi security forces progressing to a point where they can take on the security responsibilities for the country, with very little coalition support,” he said.
The military has long maintained that any American troop drawdown would have to be preceded by Iraqi forces taking on more and more responsibility.
When asked whether the Iraqi security forces could assume full control of security, allowing coalition forces to withdraw, Casey said it was too early to tell.
“I’m not sure yet,” he said. “And we’ll adjust that as we go. But a lot of that, in fact the future coalition presence, 12 to 18 months from now, is going to be decided by the Iraqi government.”
Casey said Iraqi forces are now “75 percent” along the path of being able to operate independently of coalition forces.
U.S. officials have lauded the results of a major security crackdown in Baghdad that they say has resulted in a dramatic fall in sectarian killings. They reported that the murder rate in the capital dropped almost 50 percent in August compared to July, but that figure could not be independently confirmed.
The crackdown by Iraqi and U.S. forces began Aug. 7, targeting some of the capital’s most problematic neighborhoods.
In the past, similar operations have lowered violence for short periods of time, but attacks then escalate after American forces leave.
Violence across the country left dozens dead on Wednesday. Twelve prospective army cadets were killed in Hillah, about 95 kilometers (60 miles) south of Baghdad as they waited outside a recruiting center.
A bomb also ripped through a Baghdad market. Although police said 24 people had been killed in the blast, the Defense Ministry and the Prime Minister’s office on Thursday revised the death toll to 13. The reason for the conflicting figures was not immediately clear.
In other violence around Iraq Thursday, according to police:
-A bomb at a wedding party in Mahaweel, about 56 kilometers (35 miles) south of Baghdad, wounded at least seven people, police said.
-Two mortar rounds landed in central Baqouba, 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad, wounding three people, including a woman and a child.
-Gunmen killed two brothers in a cotton shop in Baqouba.
-Gunmen shot and killed a member of the oil ministry’s security service and wounded another in Baghdad.
-Police in Latifiyah, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Baghdad, seized a weapons cache with 200 mortar rounds found buried in an orchard.