MILITARY FORCES Iraq announces new plan for improving operations

Al-Jaafari introduced the 12-point security program.
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The Iraqi government announced Thursday an ambitious plan for improved border protection and intelligence gathering, and for the formation of an elite Iraqi force to prepare the embattled country for an eventual drawdown of American troops.
Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's announcement of the 12-point security program follows a particularly bloody week for U.S. forces battling Sunni Muslim insurgents in western Iraq. At least 24 Marines have been killed in action in the last week, underscoring the sophistication and persistence of an enemy that fledgling Iraqi forces are so far unable to combat on their own.
'Noble cause'
President Bush, speaking in Crawford, Texas, dismissed a threat by Ayman al-Zawahri, the No. 2 Al-Qaida leader, to kill tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq.
"We will stay the course," Bush said. "We will complete the job in Iraq. And the job is this: We'll help the Iraqis develop a democracy."
Bush also expressed condolences for the families of the Marines killed in Iraq.
"I hope they can take comfort in the fact that millions of their fellow citizens pray for them. I hope they also take comfort in the understanding that the sacrifice was made in a noble cause," Bush said.
In Baghdad, al-Jaafari said multinational forces would stay in Iraq.
"The multinational forces have a role to play. If not, we would have already asked them to leave," al-Jaafari told a news conference in Baghdad. The security plan "is an entirely Iraqi plan, with an Iraqi perspective, Iraqi timing and an Iraqi way of dealing with matters."
Continued violence
Also on Thursday, the U.S. military said three soldiers died when their vehicle was hit by a car bomb in southwest Baghdad Wednesday night and that a Marine was shot to death in Ramadi, the capital of the volatile Anbar province west of Baghdad.
The Marine was killed Wednesday, the same day 14 other Marines and their Iraqi translator died in the town of Haditha when their armored vehicle was ripped apart in the deadliest roadside bombing of a U.S. combat vehicle since the war began.
The Army of Ansar al-Sunnah, a well-known insurgent group with ties to Al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack in an Internet posting Thursday that couldn't be verified.
On Monday, six Marines died near Haditha when their foot patrol came under small-arms fire, and a Marine fighting near Hit was killed by a suicide car bombing.
In other violence Thursday:
*Gunmen stormed the Baghdad home of Haider Mohammed al-Dujaili, the director of public relations for Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, and executed him in front of his wife and children.
*Two Iraqi commandos from the elite Wolf Brigade were killed in a car bombing near a Shiite shrine in the city of Daquq, north of Baghdad. The blast also killed two members of a visiting delegation from the rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.
*Iraq's former planning minister, Mahdi al-Hafidh, survived an assassination attempt on Baghdad's notorious airport road. Gunmen opened fire on his car, injuring one of his guards and three civilian passers-by, according to Iraqi authorities.
Casualty update
As of Thursday, at least 1,826 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. At least 1,406 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers. The figures include five military civilians.
The AP count is eight higher than the Defense Department's tally, last updated at 10 a.m. Thursday.
The British military has reported 93 deaths; Italy, 26; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 17; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Slovakia, three; El Salvador, Estonia, Thailand and the Netherlands, two each; and Denmark, Hungary, Kazakhstan and Latvia one death each.
Since May 1, 2003, when President Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, 1,687 U.S. military members have died, according to AP's count.

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