- Iraqi security forces are losing men because of "severe
intimidation" by rebels, a top US general has said.
- Lt Gen David Petraeus, in charge of training Iraqi troops,
said few of the 90 battalions were at full strength.
- He referred to incidents where soldiers returning from
leave had been killed by rebels, but he did not say how many troops had
deserted because of threats.
- In the latest violence, four Iraqi soldiers were killed
on Saturday when their patrol was attacked in Basra.
- A booby-trapped motorcycle exploded near their vehicle
in the southern city, an army spokesman said.
- The US general said 136,000 Iraqi soldiers and police
officers were now trained and equipped.
- The US is helping to train Iraqi forces so they can eventually
take over security and allow US troops to leave.
- Privately, officials say everything depends on just how
tenacious rebels turn out to be - but the American public ought to be ready
for their troops to stay in Iraq for years, reports the BBC's Adam Brookes
at the Pentagon.
- But the US casualties continue to rise as well. Two US
soldiers were killed and four injured in a roadside bomb near the northern
Iraqi town of Baiji on Friday night, the US military said.
- 'Real challenge'
- Gen Petraeus said 88 Iraqi battalions were conducting
operations. But he conceded that few of those units were at full strength.
- "Not all have every vehicle or piece of unit equipment,"
Gen Petraeus told Pentagon reporters via video link from Baghdad.
- Insurgents were actually cutting the heads off soldiers
as they were trying to come back from leave
- "And some are still receiving replacements from
combat casualties and losses suffered due to severe intimidation."
- He highlighted the particular challenge for US and Iraq
forces in insurgent strongholds north and west of Baghdad.
- "This is an area where the insurgents were actually
cutting the heads off soldiers that were trying to come back from leave
and so forth," Gen Petraeus said.
- "It was a real challenge during that time but we've
turned a corner with that and as I said, a substantial number of soldiers
are heading to those units."
- But some independent analysts in Washington question
the general's numbers, our correspondent reports.
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies says
it has found that only handful of Iraqi police and military battalions
are able to fight independently.
- US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Congress
on Thursday that Iraqi units, on average, had absentee rates of about 40%.
- The Bush administration has not given a timetable for
the withdrawal of US troops.
- Following last weekend's election in Iraq, the US has
announced it will reduce troop levels by 15,000. It expects to keep 135,000
troops in Iraq throughout the year.