The attack came shortly after U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld arrived in Baghdad for a brief visit with U.S. administrator Paul Bremer and senior U.S. military officials.
Rumsfeld, making his fourth visit to Iraq since last year’s U.S.-led invasion, is assessing whether Iraq’s new police and civil defense forces will be ready to take on more security responsibilities from U.S. soldiers after the planned transfer of authority to a new Iraqi government on June 30.
Rumsfeld met Monday with four members of Iraq’s new security forces and praised them for the progress they were making. He also toured a training academy for the new Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.
“We’re looking forward to seeing Iraqis take over the responsibility for the security of your country,” he told the new Iraqi recruits.
U.S. officials have pointed to the growth of the Iraqi security corps and of the Iraqi police as evidence that the June 30 handover will go smoothly, despite the fact that more than 300 people have died this year in attacks that appeared aimed at Iraqi security forces and Iraqis seen as cooperating with the U.S.-led coalition authority.
Speaking to reporters with Rumsfeld, the chief spokesman for the U.S. military, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said: “It is clear that the Iraqi security forces are not capable of taking over the security of this country (now),” the Associated Press reported.
Security has been one of the issues under consideration in determining when elections for a new Iraqi government can take place. U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi released a report Monday that said elections could be held by the end of the year if preparations began right away.
Brahimi’s report, issued after a U.N. election team went to Baghdad, said Iraq would need at least eight months to prepare credible national elections, and only then if all the conditions for security are met and once a legal framework is agreed on, according to the AP.
The latest attack in Kirkuk, a city known for its lucrative oil resources, underlined some problems the new Iraqi security forces will likely face.
The blast occurred when a speeding white four-door sedan rammed into the police station in the Kurdish neighborhood of Rahimawa shortly after 8 a.m. local time, just as police were changing shifts, according to station chief Col. Adel Ibrahim and police Lt. Salam Zangana.
According to a U.S. military press statement: “The Iraqi police engaged the vehicle outside the gate but were unable to stop it. The vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated inside the courtyard of the police station.”
There have been conflicting reports on the number of casualties. Kirkuk police chief Torhan Yousef said seven people were killed and 52 injured; Zangana told Reuters 13 policemen were killed and 51 wounded. Local hospital officials said ten people were killed, the AP reported.
The attack is the third since late January against the Kurds, who are pressing for greater self-rule in northern Iraq and to maintain their independent militias they say are needed to protect their autonomy from Baghdad.