Two U.S. soldiers riding in unmarked vehicles died in a roadside bombing Saturday as the lead American administrator in Iraq vowed to speed up training of Iraqi armed forces, police and border patrols to stem attacks.
"On the security front we will accelerate the turnover of responsibility and authority to Iraqis," said Paul Bremer, who heads the U.S.-led coalition overseeing Iraq. "It is essential that they take an essential role in their own defense. This is, after all, their country, it is their future."
Bremer was responding to the deadliest week of insurgent suicide bombings since President Bush declared the end of major combat on May 1. By next September more than 200,000 Iraqis will be active in law enforcement _ more than three times the current number _ Bremer told reporters Saturday.
Bremer also promised to speed up reconstruction and the handover of the political process. The Bush administration hopes for a constitution to be drafted by mid December.
"Iraqis bring vital language and cultural skills to the task of fighting terrorism," Bremer said. "One of the biggest advantages of getting Iraqis more involved in their own security is that the Iraqis will be better able to tell who the bad guys are."
The two U.S. soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were killed in the northern town of Mosul on Saturday. Two other soldiers were wounded. The deaths brought the post-combat casualty toll to 122.
Six months to the day that Bush declared major fighting finished, he said on his regular Saturday address to Americans that U.S. forces would not abandon Iraq.
"Leaving Iraq prematurely would only embolden the terrorists and increase the danger to America," Bush said from his ranch in Crawford, Texas. "We are determined to stay, to fight and to win.
Despite threats reported Friday by the U.S. consulate of a "Day of Resistance" by insurgents, there was little evidence of unrest Saturday in Baghdad.
Still, after a week in which at least 40 Iraqis died in suicide bombings, thousands of Iraqi parents kept their children out of school because of threats. Some bank employees, hotel workers and shopkeepers stayed home, too.
U.S. troops and Iraqi police manned checkpoints. Bremer, however, downplayed the impact of the threats.
"My understanding there was a drop-off in school but there was no general strike," Bremer said.