Continued from page 1

Al-Naqaeeb said attacks likely will spike if U.S. forces leave Iraq at the end of the year.

“The Iraqi security forces need the expertise from the Americans,” he said. “They shouldn’t be in a hurry with the withdrawal. And the Iraqi government should reconsider the withdrawal date because our forces are not yet ready.”

The Dec. 31 withdrawal deadline is part of a security agreement between Baghdad and Washington from which neither side has budged so far. Moreover, an attack by an Iraqi army soldier that killed two U.S. troops Saturday during a training drill in the northern city of Mosul casts further doubt that the military would be willing to stay.

A senior U.S. Embassy official this week maintained that the year-end deadline will stand until the Iraqi government explicitly asks for it to be extended. If a request is made, President Barack Obama would have to approve it amid a hostile American political climate as he eyes re-election in 2012.

“There is no discussion right now on that issue, because there is no request,” the Embassy official told reporters in a briefing where he agreed to talk on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic issues more candidly.

Douglas Ollivant, who oversaw Iraq issues at the National Security Council in 2008-09 after two U.S. Army tours here, said it’s still too soon to judge the ability of Iraqi forces.

“Objectively speaking, can we help them more if we stay longer? Obviously, yes,” said Ollivant, now a contract adviser to NATO forces in Afghanistan. “But they have to make their own decisions.”

The performance of Iraqi forces has varied wildly throughout their training. The army is generally seen as competent, while police forces are uneven depending largely on their location, funding and support. Meanwhile, local militias such as the Sunni-run Sons of Iraq and the Kurdish peshmerga were given little equipment and training until they recently began to be integrated into police and army ranks.

Insurgents have long found recruitment centers a favorite target, taking advantage of lax security measures just outside protective barriers at police and army stations and the confusion caused by desperate jobseekers scrambling for work.

A similar strike on an Iraqi recruitment center and army headquarters in central Baghdad last August left 61 dead and 125 wounded. Two weeks later, militants attacked the same building again, detonating a car bomb and trying to shoot their way in, killing eight and wounding 29.

Tuesday’s bombing followed a two-month lull that saw mostly small-scale bombings and shootings across Iraq instead of spectacular violence.

It was the deadliest attack since Nov. 2, when rapid-fire bombings and mortar strikes killed 76 people and wounded more than 200 in at least 13 Baghdad neighborhoods in a demonstration of insurgents’ ability to carry out coordinated strikes from one side of the capital to the other.


Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Saad Abdul-Kadir in Baghdad and Sameer N. Yacoub in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.