BAGHDAD -- Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari called yesterday for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops, and the top U.S. commander here said he thinks a "fairly substantial" pullout could begin next spring and summer.
Sporadic attacks and suicide bombings continued in the country yesterday, and al Qaeda in Iraq said two Algerian diplomats kidnapped in Baghdad last week had been killed, marking the second slaying of Arab envoys in Iraq this month. The Algerian government later confirmed the killings of Ali Belaroussi, 62, and Azze dine Belkadi, 47.
A statement on an Islamist Web site said the diplomats were slain because of the Algerian government's repression of Muslims in the North African country.
Mr. al-Jaafari said at a joint press conference with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that the time has arrived to plan a coordinated transition from American to Iraqi military control throughout the country.
Asked how soon a U.S. withdrawal should happen, the Iraqi leader said no timetable had been set.
"But we confirm and we desire speed in that regard," he said, speaking through a translator. "And this fast pace has two aspects."
First, there must be a quickening of the pace of U.S. training of Iraqi security forces, and second, the U.S.-led military coalition and the emerging Iraq government must closely coordinate a security transition, he said.
"We do not want to be surprised by a withdrawal that is not in connection with our Iraqi timing," he said.
During a Washington visit last month, Mr. al-Jaafari joined President Bush at the White House in rejecting a demand for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal.
"This is not the time to fall back," Mr. al-Jaafari said June 24. "I see from up close what's happening in Iraq, and I know we are making steady and substantial progress."
Speaking with U.S. reporters traveling with Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday, Gen. George Casey, the top American commander in Iraq, said he thinks a U.S. troop withdrawal could begin by spring if progress continues on the political front and if the insurgency does not expand.
Mr. Rumsfeld was planning to get a firsthand look at the training of Iraqi security forces by watching a demonstration by a group of Iraqi special forces using live ammunition at a training range run by American troops.
Mr. Rumsfeld said en route to Iraq yesterday that he would be pushing the Iraqis to provide more people who can be trained by U.S. personnel to handle the growing number of detainees in the country, estimated to number at least 15,000.
With a permanent Iraqi government scheduled to take power in January, after the adoption of a constitution and an election in December, they need trained prison guards "so that as soon as it is feasible we can transfer responsibility for Iraqi prisoners to the Iraqi government," he said.
Meanwhile, progress on the new constitution ran into another snag as Iraqi Kurds threatened not to back down from demands for a federal state, despite problems that this may create in meeting an Aug. 15 deadline.
Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, also said Kurds would never dissolve their militias and repeated demands for the return of ethnic Kurds to the oil-rich Kirkuk area from where tens of thousands of them were expelled under dictator Saddam Hussein.
In ongoing violence, a bomb exploded near a U.S. Army patrol in central Iraq, killing one soldier and wounding five others, the U.S. command said.
The attack occurred in Salaheddin province in the Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad, a center of the anti-American insurgency. The soldiers were assigned to Task Force Liberty based in Tikrit, the U.S. command said.
In other violence, mortar attacks on Baghdad's main bus station killed at least two and injured 20. Seven Iraqi soldiers were fatally shot as they were guarding a water plant north of Baghdad, the Defense Ministry said.
Two suicide attackers who apparently targeted the Iraqi military blew themselves up in quick succession yesterday outside a hospital in northern Baghdad, killing two soldiers and wounding eight, police said.