Pentagon official sees 'difficult road' in Iraq
12 police recruits among those killed in post-election attacks
A Sunni group that boycotted the Iraq vote says the election had no legitimacy.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A top Pentagon official told lawmakers Thursday that the United States' work in Iraq is not done after Sunday's elections, while post-election violence there killed more than two dozen people in a two-day period.
"As impressive as that election was, Iraq still faces a difficult road ahead," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "This is not a time to sit on our hands and congratulate ourselves."
Those comments came the same day the U.S. military announced that two Marines were killed in action in Iraq's Anbar province.
Both were assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and died Wednesday. No other details were provided. Since the war's start, 1,439 U.S. forces have died in Iraq.
Meanwhile, insurgents killed 12 Iraqi army recruits and critically wounded two others in an ambush on their bus near the northern city of Kirkuk, an Iraqi army spokesman said.
The insurgents stopped the bus, made the recruits disembark and then shot them one by one Wednesday evening in the village of Zab, Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin said.
Amin said that most of the recruits were under 25 and that they were unarmed and headed for home. Zab is about 45 miles (70 kilometers) southwest of Kirkuk.
Insurgents also attacked a five-vehicle police convoy traveling to Baghdad on Thursday, killing one Iraqi police officer and injuring three others, officials said. The attackers used rocket-propelled grenades and small arms near the Abu Ghraib prison in western Baghdad, an Iraqi police officer told CNN.
Also in Baghdad, gunmen killed a local politician in front of his house Thursday, police said.
And in Baquba, gunmen attacked a vehicle Thursday, killing four Iraqis and wounding two others, the U.S. military said. Baquba is about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Baghdad.
A day earlier, gunmen killed an Iraqi soldier, his father and sister in a drive-by shooting in Maffrack, 2 1/2 miles (4 kilometers) south of Baquba.
In another drive-by shooting, insurgents killed two Iraqi soldiers Wednesday in a west Baghdad neighborhood, Iraqi police said. The soldiers were dressed in civilian clothes and unarmed when insurgents opened fire on them from a vehicle, a police spokesman said.
In Washington, Wolfowitz said "much remains to be done" in training Iraqi security forces because the process "has encountered countless challenges and suffered numerous setbacks."
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate committee that U.S. forces need to shift their focus from fighting insurgents to helping Iraqis become more self-reliant.
Myers refused to give a schedule for reducing the 150,000 U.S. forces in Iraq, saying, "This ought to be condition-based, not timeline-based."
Myers said more than 79,000 Ministry of Interior Iraqi forces and nearly 57,000 Ministry of Defense forces are considered "trained and equipped."
Myers said about 40,000 of the troops could be deployed anywhere in Iraq "and take on almost any threat."
Pressed by several lawmakers, Myers said the number of insurgents was difficult to determine.
"I don't know how you defeat an insurgency unless you have some handle on the number of people you are facing," said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican.
Told by Myers that some numbers exist but are classified, McCain said, "I think the American people should know the extent of the enemy we are facing."
Wolfowitz said other U.S. goals include formulating a stronger judicial system and helping the Iraqi government keep pressure on its neighbors to stop supporting terrorism.
But Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, asked why Americans needed to remain in Iraq for the purpose of building government agencies.
"Where is Osama bin Laden?" Kennedy asked. "This whole process started with the war on terror. This whole process started with weapons of mass destruction."
Wolfowitz said the United States does not want to organize the country prematurely and then pull out, leaving the insurgency room to function.
Sen. Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, blamed the war on the Bush administration's "pernicious pre-emptive strike doctrine" and said the conflict has become an excessive burden.
"The U.S.-led coalition, which was never robust to begin with, is shrinking," Byrd said, asking how much longer the administration expects Americans to shoulder the costs of the war.
Wolfowitz said he hoped the elections would inspire "countries that love freedom and democracy" to help fund the conflict, particularly countries who "enjoy substantial oil wealth."
Later Thursday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the elections could make some Iraqis more likely to help deter the insurgency.
"I think it means that intelligence is going to improve," he told reporters at the Pentagon.
However, Rumsfeld said he expects a "level of violence and the insurgency to continue."
Other developmentsSeven British soldiers will face courts-martial on murder charges in the killing of an Iraqi civilian in Iraq, the British attorney general said Thursday. The soldiers will be tried over the death of Nadhem Abdullah in May 2003 in southern Iraq, Peter Goldsmith said. (Full story)Three attorneys were traveling to Mosul in Nineveh province to investigate reported ballot irregularities, an Iraqi election official said Thursday. Nineveh is one of four predominantly Sunni provinces believed to have had low voter turnout. On Wednesday, Iraq's leading Sunni political group said Iraq's new government will lack the legitimacy to draft a constitution because many Sunnis boycotted the elections. President Bush, in his State of the Union address Wednesday evening, said he would not set an "artificial timetable" for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Doing so would only "embolden the terrorists," Bush said. (Full story)
CNN's Jane Arraf, Arwa Damon, Octavia Nasr and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.