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Italian Official Resigns, Slams Coalition

An Italian member of the U.S.-led coalition has resigned, accusing the Bush administration of inefficiency and failing to understand Iraq. In Tikrit (search), U.S. forces killed six alleged Saddam loyalists as they searched Monday for a former Saddam deputy believed to be orchestrating attacks on Americans.

Before quitting, Marco Calamai, a special counselor of the Coalition Provisional Authority in the southern province of Dhi Qar, criticized L. Paul Bremer's (search) administration for its handling of Iraq. The charges come as Russia and France objected to the U.S. timetable for handing over power to the Iraqis by July 1.

Rising casualties added new urgency to the task. Three American soldiers died Monday in separate attacks, one in an ambush on a patrol, the other by a roadside bomb and a third was killed from non-hostile gunfire.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said the U.S.-led coalition attacked dozens of suspected guerrilla hideouts as it intensified a search for Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri (search), No. 6 on the most-wanted list of 55 Iraqis and former vice chairman of Saddam's Revolutionary Command Council.

In addition to the killing of the six suspected guerrillas, Kimmitt said coalition forces had captured 99 suspected Saddam loyalists, including a former general in Saddam's elite Republican Guard, during 1,729 patrols and 25 raids conducted over the past 24 hours.

For the second time in as many days, American troops fired a satellite-guided missile with a 500-pound warhead, this one at a suspected insurgent sanctuary 10 miles south of Tikrit, Saddam's hometown.

U.S. troops continued attacking suspected insurgent positions late Monday with mortar and tank fire, military officials said. Sporadic explosions could be heard reverberating across Tikrit overnight but there were no immediate reports of casualties in the U.S. attacks.

"Clearly, we're sending the message that we do have the ability to run operations across a wide area," said Lt. Col. William MacDonald of the 4th Infantry Division. "We have overwhelming combat power that we will utilize in order to go after groups and individuals who have been conducting anti-coalition activities."

In Rome, the Italian Foreign Ministry confirmed Monday that Calamai had resigned but gave no reason.

The government of Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi was a strong supporter of the United States during the war and deployed a 2,700-strong peacekeeping force to help rebuild the country. But in an interview with the leftist daily L'Unita, Calamai complained that the British and Americans had marginalized the Italians. "They don't consult us, they don't involve us."

Calamai said only an interim authority headed by the United Nations could turn things around.

Calamai told the Italian reporters in Nasiriyah on Sunday that the failure of the coalition to understand Iraqi society had created "delusion, social discontent and anger" among Iraqis and allowed terrorism to "easily take root." He cited last week's truck bombing at an Italian paramilitary garrison in the city, which killed 19 Italians and 14 others.

Calamai said about $400,000 a month was supposed to be made available for projects in Dhi Qar province alone but "because of the muddled organization of (the coalition), only a fraction has been spent."

"The provisional authority simply doesn't work," Calamai told the newspapers. He said only a U.N. administration could turn the tide.

There was no immediate comment from Bremer's staff.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, asked about Calamai's resignation, said the coalition authority has made "excellent progress" in several areas, including "the physical reconstruction of Iraq, the restoration of services to Iraqi people, the beginnings of political authority among the Iraqi ministers and now an accelerated path to political authority."

In Washington, President Bush met with a small group of Iraqi women on Monday and promised the United States would not pull out of Iraq when a provisional government is established.

"I assured these five women that America wasn't leaving," Bush said. "When they hear me say we're staying, that means we're staying."

Calamai's criticism is similar to that leveled by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Cordesman, who went to Iraq at the invitation of the U.S. government, said coalition authority staffers believe their headquarters is an overcentralized bureaucracy that is unrealistic about developments in Iraq. He said too many coalition authority workers are talking to Americans rather than working with Iraqis.

Such criticism raises questions about the coalition's ability to oversee the transfer of power. Although primary responsibility rests with the Iraqis, several Iraqi politicians have said privately that the effort cannot succeed without strong U.S. direction.

Under the plan, announced Saturday by the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, members of a national assembly will be chosen in a series of provincial caucuses. The assembly will select a provisional government to oversee the country until a new constitution is drafted and elections are held in 2005.

The coalition authority will oversee the drafting of a "basic law" that will serve as an interim constitution until elected representatives can draw up a permanent one.

The United States has put together main guidelines for the interim constitution, including guarantees of freedom of speech, religion, equal rights and judicial independence.

Washington had insisted on withholding power until the Iraqis had ratified a new constitution and elected a democratic government. However, differences over how to choose delegates to write the constitution threatened political stalemate at a time of growing insurgency and rising casualties among the 130,000 U.S. troops here.

After talks with Bremer at the White House last week, Bush agreed to an accelerated timetable.

Although Iraqi politicians applauded the decision, the new timetable has not satisfied France and Russia, two the sharpest critics of the Iraq war. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin called for transferring power by the end of December.

In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the plan could fail to win support within Iraq and leaves little room for input from the United Nations.

"This approach is fraught with the risk that the given agreement will not attain the necessary legitimacy internally, as well as from the point of view of international law," ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said.

In an audio tape broadcast Sunday by Al-Arabiya television, a speaker purported to be Saddam criticized Iraqis who cooperate with coalition forces, calling them "stray dogs" who lack even the "minimum political weight" to "walk in the streets of Baghdad or any other Iraqi city."

The CIA said Monday it could not authenticate the tape because of its poor quality.

In other developments:

-- An Iraqi militant group called Muhammad's Army claimed responsibility for the downing of a U.S. helicopter on Nov. 2 that killed 16 soldiers. The group warned that U.S. forces would face more attacks if they did not leave Iraq in 15 days. There was no way to independently verify the claims.

-- U.S. troops in Ramadi, a city west of Baghdad, arrested Kazim Mohammed Faris, an organizer of the Fedayeen guerrillas responsible for bomb attacks and ambushes on U.S. forces, the military said.