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Coalition: Nearly half of new Iraqi army has quit

Explosions heard at U.S. compound

Members of the post-Saddam Iraqi army train in formation.
Members of the post-Saddam Iraqi army train in formation.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- About 300 of 700 members of the new Iraqi army have resigned, citing unhappiness with terms, conditions and pay and with instructions of commanding officers, a representative of the U.S.-led coalition said Thursday.

"It's a new force, and ... we face some difficulties," the representative said.

In response to the resignations, the coalition will review the terms and conditions and compare them with other security services in Iraq -- the police and Civil Defense Corps, the representative said.

The first and only battalion of the new army serves under the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division.

Last month, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Pentagon and the Coalition Provisional Authority were discussing recalling some units of the former Iraqi army, which was formally dissolved in May.

The discussions followed a letter two senators sent President Bush about the "need to speed up the process by which Iraqis assume greater responsibility" for security as the coalition prepares to cede power back to Iraqis in July.

The letter, from Sens. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, said the new Iraqi army, "which is being created from scratch, currently has less than 1,000 members. We cannot afford to transfer security functions to Iraqis at that slow a pace. The quicker we get the new Iraqi army in place, the more security we are likely to have and the better off Iraq will be."

Blasts hit inside 'Green Zone'

Loud explosions rocked Iraq's capital early Friday near the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

A military source said there were at least two explosions, and that one of them hit inside the "Green Zone," where the U.S.-led coalition has its headquarters, setting off warning sirens.

The explosions could be rockets, the source said. Earlier, security experts working for CNN said the blasts sounded like mortars landing.

A military source inside the Green Zone told CNN no injuries had been reported. The source said all structures inside the compound seemed to be intact, and said an initial assessment seemed to indicate the explosions happened just outside the compound.

But the ferocity of the blasts had people working inside the headquarters diving under their desks, sources said.

The CPA headquarters was targeted in November in insurgent attacks but no one was injured.

The Green Zone, which sits on the west bank of the Tigris River in the center of Baghdad, is the most heavily guarded site in the city.

Bush defends decision

Sharp international consternation greeted Washington's decision to bar opponents of the war from bidding on $18.6 billion worth of reconstruction projects. The move has sparked fierce reactions from countries that didn't back the U.S.-led coalition, such as Russia, Germany and France.

At a Cabinet meeting Thursday, Bush defended the decision, saying American taxpayers want the contracts restricted to those countries that "risked lives."

"The taxpayers understand why it makes sense for countries that risked lives to participate in the contracts in Iraq. It is very simple," Bush told reporters.

"Our people risked their lives, a friendly coalition risked their lives and therefore the contracting is going to reflect that. And that is what the U.S. taxpayers expect."

In a written statement, European Union External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten called the Pentagon move "extremely unhelpful."

"It's not particularly constructive to dredge up these debates and divisions of the past," Patten said. "On the contrary, it's necessary to bring the willing together, not divide them."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was also critical of the decision.

"Since the war, we are all trying to bring people together. It is time to rebuild, to work together to stabilize Iraq," Annan said. "Whatever initiative or actions or decisions should be unifying rather than divisive. I would not characterize the decision taken yesterday as unifying."

Appearing at a news briefing with Annan in Berlin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the reconstruction of Iraq "is a task for all people, everyone" and "international law must apply."

The flap over the contracts erupted Wednesday as Bush was calling on many of the leaders of the excluded nations to forgive billions of dollars in Iraqi debts.

Bush said he asked French President Jacques Chirac, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Schroeder to meet with former Secretary of State James Baker to discuss restructuring Iraq's debt.

White House officials said the contract policy came up in each of the telephone calls. Bush explained his stand and promised to "keep the lines of communication open," a spokesman said.

But other U.S. officials said the policy would change only if nations opposed to the war offered more financial and diplomatic support for post-war Iraq. (Full story)

The European Commission and World Trade Organization are investigating whether the exclusion violates international law.

Other developments

A reconnaissance and light attack helicopter fires a missile in a field in Tikrit on Thursday.
A reconnaissance and light attack helicopter fires a missile in a field in Tikrit on Thursday.

• One U.S. soldier was killed and 14 wounded Thursday in a suspected suicide attack in the central Iraqi town of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, said U.S. Army Lt. Col. William Darley. A car carrying the suspected bombers blew up near the entrance of the 82nd Airborne Division headquarters, Darley said. The three passengers inside the car were killed, he said. Eleven of the wounded soldiers have returned to duty after treatment, Darley said. The conditions of the other three are unavailable.

• Two journalists and two soldiers were wounded Wednesday night in Baghdad in a hand-grenade attack, according to U.S. military officials. The journalists were accompanying a patrol from the Army's 1st Armored Division when unknown attackers threw hand grenades at the vehicles. The wounded were evacuated to a military medical unit, and their conditions were not known.

CNN's Maria Arbelaez, Jane Arraf, Jill Dougherty, John King and Elise Labott contributed to this report.


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