WMD hunters switched to security duties

Coalition authorities speed up training of local police and army as Bush vows not to leave 'prematurely'

Intelligence officers and other military personnel are being pulled off the increasingly futile hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and assigned instead to deal with the worsening security situation - one that claimed another two American lives yesterday.

As a roadside bomb in the northern city of Mosul killed two US soldiers, and an oil pipeline near Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit was set ablaze, Paul Bremer, the American pro-consul in Iraq, announced that training of Iraqi soldiers and police would be speeded up.

Mr Bremer added that he believed Saddam was still in Iraq, and that capturing or killing him was a top priority. In Washington there is increasing speculation that the ousted dictator is not merely eluding the occupation forces, but is taking an active part in directing the insurgency against them.

Many shops were closed and schoolchildren kept at home in Baghdad yesterday after leaflets warning of a "day of resistance" created fears of attacks similar to the bombings earlier last week which targeted the Red Cross and police stations in the capital, killing more than 30 Iraqis. The commander of coalition forces, Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, said he did not believe that the security situation was a failure, but there is growing criticism of the inability of the occupation authorities to prevent a spate of attacks that have driven away aid agencies and caused the United Nations to withdraw all international staff from Baghdad.

President Bush insisted in his weekly radio address yesterday that the upsurge in violence would not drive coalition forces out. "Leaving Iraq prematurely would only embolden the terrorists and increase the danger to America. We are determined to stay, to fight and to win."

Critics believe, however, that Washington's failure to plan for the occupation is creating a vacuum into which foreign elements are being drawn: the very situation the invasion was meant to prevent. One US source told Jane's Intelligence Digest: "If al-Qa'ida wasn't operating in Iraq under Saddam, it surely is now."

Since the Bush administration claims that what is needed in Iraq is not more troops but better intelligence, the leak of a highly critical internal army report last week was an embarrassment for the White House. The report said younger intelligence officers and soldiers in particular were poorly prepared and possessed "very little to no analytical skills". There is a major shortage of interpreters, and the report complained they were often misused for errands, such as being sent "to buy chicken and soft drinks".

These handicaps compound the problems of penetrating a society which outside the main cities is tribal, with intense village, district and family loyalties. Betrayal leads to blood feuds and killings: in one case a farmer was forced to shoot his own son for acting as an informer for the Americans; if he didn't, the villagers said they would kill the whole family.

One temporary solution has been to divert resources from the WMD hunt to counter-insurgency duties, but with an election year looming, the US wants to hand over responsibility for security as quickly as possible to Iraqis. Ivo Daalder, a former member of Bill Clinton's National Security Council and now with the Brook- ings Institution, Washington's leading liberal think-tank, predicted in London last week that the US presence in Iraq would be sharply scaled down within three to six months.

Mr Bremer said yesterday that the Iraqi Civil Defence Force would be doubled in size by March. The aim was to have more than 200,000 Iraqi security personnel by September. As part of the plan to accelerate army training, 27 battalions would be organised and trained in one year instead of two as expected.

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