Sunday, January 28, 2007

Iraqi Prime Minister wants troops to leave
Pelosi, Maliki Discuss Timing of Drawdown
4 Slain GIs Were Abducted, U.S. Says
By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer

BAGHDAD, Jan. 26 -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), visiting Baghdad on Friday in her new capacity as House speaker, that he would like to see 50,000 U.S. troops leave by the end of the year, Iraqi officials said.

Pelosi's primary concern in meeting Maliki appeared to be to determine how soon he thought the United States could withdraw its soldiers from Iraq, said Ali Dabbagh, the prime minister's spokesman.

The U.S. military, reversing earlier statements, acknowledged Friday that four of five soldiers killed last Saturday had been abducted before being executed. The abductions followed a brazen attack on a government building in the southern city of Karbala.

Military officials earlier this week had dissuaded The Washington Post from reporting an account of the abductions, saying it was inaccurate. The account had been provided by Iraqi officials and witnesses.

Pelosi, a critic of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq, told the prime minister that she and fellow Democrats are eager to see a prompt transition of authority, Maliki's office said in a statement.

"The prime minister assured them that they could speed up the withdrawal of the troops if the equipment and training of the national forces could be speeded up," Dabbagh said Friday night in an interview.

Pelosi's visit occurs as the Bush administration is sending an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq, where sectarian violence continues, impunity is widespread and the government struggles to provide basic services.

"The purpose of our trip was fact-finding, and we're in the process of doing that," Pelosi told Iraqi television reporters.

The military's statement Friday, issued following the release of an Associated Press report on the Karbala attack, provides this account of the killings:

The assailants traveled in at least five sport-utility vehicles and wore what looked like U.S. military uniforms, which allowed them to approach the building without raising suspicion. The fighters, armed with U.S.-type weapons, attacked a group of American soldiers inside with grenades and rifles. One U.S. soldier was killed.

The assailants captured four others. Several miles away at a checkpoint, the convoy drew the suspicion of Iraqi police, who followed the vehicles. The pursuit prompted the attackers to abandon five SUVs before they escaped.

Iraqi police found the bodies of two American soldiers handcuffed together in the back of one of the vehicles; both had been shot in the head. Another soldier, also shot, was found dead on the ground. A fourth soldier, who also had been shot in the head, died en route to a hospital.

"The precision of the attack, the equipment used and the possible use of explosives to destroy the military vehicles in the compound suggests that the attack was well rehearsed prior to execution," said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a military spokesman.

Also Friday, the military said a Marine died fighting in Anbar province, in western Iraq, one of the most dangerous parts of the country.

Friday morning, a bomb left in a plastic bag detonated in the Souq al-Ghazil pet market, in a heavily Shiite area of central Baghdad, killing at least 16 people and injuring more than 35, Iraqi officials said.

Staff writer Jonathan Weisman in Washington, special correspondent Waleed Saffar in Baghdad and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.