- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2003

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Italy dispatched fresh troops to Iraq yesterday, just one day after 18 Italians were killed by suicide bombers, but Japan delayed a decision on sending troops and South Korea capped its deployment at 3,000 soldiers.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces pounded suspected guerrilla targets in Baghdad for a second straight night under a new “get-tough” campaign against the insurgency. And the top American administrator, L. Paul Bremer, headed back to Iraq after two days of White House talks with orders that Iraqis should take more responsibility for governing.

In Rome, 50 carabinieri paratroopers left central Italy to reinforce a contingent depleted and demoralized by Wednesday’s blast at a base in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

President Bush phoned Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, one of his staunchest supporters, yesterday to discuss Iraq as Italians mourned their loss.

Flowers were placed on forgotten war memorials and newspapers started fund drives for orphaned children.

Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini called it “our September 11.” Defense Minister Antonio Martino visited the blast site in Nasiriyah and blamed it on the “same people” who carried out the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

It was Italy’s highest military death toll in one incident since World War II, but the Cabinet ruled yesterday that the 2,300-strong Italian contingent in Iraq would stay put.

The decisions of Japan and South Korea were a setback to U.S. hopes for easing pressure on American troops in Iraq.

On the eve of a visit to Tokyo by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Japan decided the time isn’t right to send its forces to Iraq, indicating its deployment might be delayed until next year.

Japan had intended to send troops to Iraq by the end of 2003 to help rebuild the country, but chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda backed off, saying the country is still too unstable.

South Korea also decided to limit its contribution to 3,000 troops, President Roh Moo-hyun announced. Denmark also rejected a push by two Danish soldiers’ unions to bolster its 410-member force by 100 more troops.

Many countries and agencies in Iraq, including Spain, the Netherlands, the United Nations and the International Red Cross, have been reconsidering their presence since they became targets.

Asked yesterday on his way to Japan whether the suicide-bomb blast would make it harder to recruit foreign security forces, Mr. Rumsfeld said, “Saddam Hussein and the Fedayeen Saddam remnants are purposely targeting people in an attempt to get them to leave … and it’s not going to happen.”

He said that U.S. forces will not be forced out by terrorist attacks.

“If that’s what they think, they’re wrong,” Mr. Rumsfeld said of the Iraqi insurgents.

As for other countries, Mr. Rumsfeld said: “And I wish everyone well, that they’ll make a decision that they’ll be proud of. We’re proud of our decision.”

Mr. Rumsfeld said the number of Iraqi security forces is now grown to 131,000 — more than the 128,000 U.S. troops in the country.

“Very soon it will pass the combined U.S. and coalition forces,” he said.

“The coalition security forces have been adjusting their techniques and tactics and procedures to fit the evolving security situation on the ground,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

For a second straight night yesterday, explosions shook Baghdad after sundown, part of Operation Iron Hammer.

On the first night, American troops shelled a dye factory on the southern outskirts of Baghdad in retaliation against attacks on coalition headquarters.

The plant, which has been idle since the war that deposed Saddam Hussein, was blasted by Apache helicopter rockets Wednesday night. U.S. commanders said the plant had been used by militants to store ammunition.

Before the strike, U.S. soldiers with loudspeakers drove through the neighborhood and warned residents to leave. Later, at least nine large-caliber shells were fired into the empty plant, heavily damaging the structure.

Staff writer Bill Gertz contributed to this report from Guam.

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