BAGHDAD, Iraq – The U.S. military today announced the deaths of four soldiers: two from wounds suffered in rebel attacks, one in a vehicle accident and one from natural causes.
A soldier died at 3 p.m. Friday from wounds he received during a mortar attack that day, and another soldier died on the same day from bullet wounds suffered when a sniper ambushed his unit, the military said.
Early Friday, a military vehicle overturned during a patrol, killing a soldier, the military said.
All three soldiers belonged to the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division and all died south of Baghdad.
A fourth soldier died of natural causes Friday in the headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad, the military said.
“The soldier was found unconscious and transported to the 31st Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad where he was pronounced dead at 6:55 a.m.,” the military said in a statement.
The names of the soldiers were withheld pending notification of their families.
As of Friday, May 14, 775 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq last year, according to the Department of Defense. Of those, 565 died as a result of hostile action and 210 died of nonhostile causes.
It was unclear whether the latest deaths were included in the Department of Defense toll.
U.S. would leave Iraq
U.S.-led coalition forces would leave Iraq if a new interim government should ask them to, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday, but such a request is unlikely.
Powell said the United States believes that a U.N. resolution passed last year and Iraqi administrative law provide necessary authority for coalition forces to remain even beyond the scheduled June 30 handover of government to Iraqis.
“We’re there to support the Iraqi people and protect them and the new government,” Powell said at a news conference with his counterparts from other Group of Eight nations preparing for an economic summit next month. “I have no doubt the new government will welcome our presence and am losing no sleep over whether they will ask us to stay.”
But were the new government to say it could handle security, “then we would leave,” Powell said.
L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, told a delegation from Iraq’s Diyala province Friday that American forces would not stay where they were unwelcome.
“If the provisional government asks us to leave, we will leave,” Bremer said, referring to an interim Iraqi administration due to take power June 30. “I don’t think that will happen, but obviously we don’t stay in countries where we’re not welcome.”
Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman had told the House International Relations Committee on Thursday that although it was unlikely, the Iraqi interim government could tell U.S. troops to leave. But Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp, who was also at the hearing, contradicted his statement, telling the panel that only an elected government could order a U.S. withdrawal.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Friday that the Iraqi people still want help from the United States and coalition forces to provide security.
“Iraqi security forces are not fully equipped and trained to provide for their own security and defend their country against terrorists,” McClellan said. “And so, after the transfer of sovereignty on June 30, we expect to continue to partner with the Iraqi forces to improve the security situation.”
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said at the news conference with Powell that stability in Iraq would not be served by an abrupt withdrawal.
Control of army, police
France wants the Iraqi interim government that takes over on June 30 to control the police and the national army and have the right to decide whether Iraqi soldiers go into combat, U.N. diplomats said Friday.
The relationship between the new caretaker government and the multinational force that will remain in the country after the U.S.-led coalition transfers sovereignty is the most difficult issue that Security Council members must resolve as they put together a new resolution dealing with the handover.
The United States, which will lead the multinational force, wants a unified command structure that would include the Iraqi army.
Powell said Friday that Iraqi military and paramilitary forces would be commanded by Iraqi officers under the Ministry of Defense. “But for purposes of unity of command and working with the multinational coalition forces, they will report to the single commander of the overall force,” he said.
The French, who opposed the war that ousted Saddam Hussein, want the end of the U.S. occupation to give Iraqi people day-to-day control of the government and control over their security forces, the U.N. diplomats said.
The transitional government should manage Iraq’s internal security forces and “have a say in the use of the multilateral force that will be in Iraq from July until January,” French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told reporters after a working dinner with Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday night.
France has gone farther in private conversations with council members, saying that the interim government must give permission for Iraqi troops to participate in a military engagement, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A senior British official in London said U.S. and British forces normally sign a “status of forces” agreement with the host government, but in this case there won’t be a government until June 30 and the coalition wants to ensure its continued presence.
Beheading victim buried
Nicholas Berg, who was executed in Iraq in a very public way, was eulogized and interred in private ceremonies West Goshen Township, Pa. here Friday – far removed from the spotlight that has focused international attention on his family.
Berg, 26, the communications entrepreneur whose beheading was videotaped by his militant Islamic captors, was described as a caring and adventurous young man during a memorial service attended by about 450 friends and family members.
Police sealed off the Kesher Israel Congregation synagogue and grounds from reporters and camera crews, setting up a perimeter marked by yellow crime tape and armed sentries.
Berg’s father, Michael, has delivered scathing criticisms of the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq, telling reporters that he held U.S. officials partially responsible for his son’s death. But the family _ father, mother, brother, sister _ asked police to keep journalists away from the service Friday. One local police chief threatened to eject forcibly any reporter who tried to attend.
Nicholas Berg was buried in a family plot at a Jewish cemetery outside Philadelphia, neighbors said.
Friends described him as a young man with a probing mind and an acute interest in science, religion and technology. Bruce Hauser, the Bergs’ next-door neighbor in a leafy suburban neighborhood two miles from the synagogue, said mourners spoke Friday of Berg’s passion for travel and adventure.