BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Iraqi government on Thursday announced an ambitious plan for improved border protection and intelligence gathering and for the formation of an elite Iraqi force to prepare the embattled country for an eventual drawdown of American troops.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s announcement of the 12-point security program follows a particularly bloody week for U.S. forces battling Sunni Muslim insurgents in western Iraq.

At least 24 Marines have been killed in action in the last week, underscoring the sophistication and persistence of an enemy that fledgling Iraqi forces are so far unable to combat on their own.

In Baghdad, al-Jaafari said multinational forces would stay in Iraq.

“The multinational forces have a role to play. If not, we would have already asked them to leave,” al-Jaafari told a news conference in Baghdad.

The security plan “is an entirely Iraqi plan, with an Iraqi perspective, Iraqi timing and an Iraqi way of dealing with matters.”

Also on Thursday, the U.S. military said three soldiers died when their vehicle was hit by a car bomb in southwest Baghdad Wednesday night and that a Marine was shot to death in Ramadi, the capital of the volatile Anbar province west of Baghdad.

The Marine was killed Wednesday, the same day 14 other Marines and their Iraqi translator died in the town of Haditha when their armored vehicle was ripped apart in the deadliest roadside bombing of a U.S. combat vehicle since the war began.

The Army of Ansar al-Sunnah, a well-known insurgent group with ties to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack in an Internet posting Thursday that couldn’t be verified.

On Monday, six Marines died near Haditha when their foot patrol came under small-arms fire, and a Marine fighting near Hit was killed by a suicide car bombing.

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The bombing in Haditha destroyed a lightly armored amphibious assault vehicle used by Marines that was designed to carry troops from ship to shore for use in land operations and wasn’t intended for day-to-day inland patrolling, according to military analysts.

But military spokesman U.S. Brig. Gen. Donald Alston said Thursday that the vehicles had “Level 2” protection, which is described in a military press release as a vehicle with improved armoring.

“That decision by the leadership to deploy that much armor was in response to the threat imposed by the terrorists,” he said.

Alston said, however, that it was a “quite potent” bomb that hit the Marines.

He said insurgents have been improving their bomb technology and tactics in response to the increased armoring.

“I think what we’re seeing here is an adaptive enemy,” he said. “We’re seeing occasionally these exceptional bombs. We do not see this kind of lethality every day.”

Alston said the attacks show that the military is pressuring the insurgency in the Euphrates River valley.

“This is ground that they need to sustain themselves and they are being denied that ground,” he said.

He said in the last couple weeks the number of car bombings has decreased to its lowest level in the last few months.

He warned that insurgents may step up their efforts in response to a new constitution that Iraqi leaders are developing.

But he said, “This is not an expanding insurgency.”

“What we’re seeing is probably the opposite,” Alston said.

Alston also lashed out at a video posted on the Internet that allegedly shows one of the Marines killed near Haditha.

“The shameful act of exploiting dead bodies to promote their cause is deplorable,” he said.

Iraq’s premier offered few details on the 12-point security plan.

One of the cornerstones of the plan is better coordination among Iraq’s intelligence agencies. Among the other measures: the formation of an elite Iraqi quick-reaction force, the creation of a War Information Office to counter insurgent propaganda, and increased security along Iraq’s borders – especially with Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran – to staunch the flow of insurgents and weapons.

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In other violence Thursday:

-Gunmen stormed the Baghdad home of Haider Mohammed al-Dujaili, the director of public relations for Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, and executed him in front of his wife and children.

-Two Iraqi commandos from the elite Wolf Brigade were killed in a car bombing near a Shiite shrine in the city of Daquq, north of Baghdad. The blast also killed two members of a visiting delegation from the rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia.

-Iraq’s former planning minister, Mahdi al-Hafidh, survived an assassination attempt on Baghdad’s notorious airport road. Gunmen opened fire on his car, injuring one of his guards and three civilian passers-by, according to Iraqi authorities.



(Chin reports for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondent Mohammed al Awsy contributed to this report.)



(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-08-04-05 1733EDT


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