BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq's top general on Sunday rejected President Bush's (search) criticism that some Iraqi government troops were unwilling to fight insurgents and have deserted the battlefield, saying the president had been misinformed.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Gen. Babaker B. Shawkat Zebari (search) also said that the man who carried out Tuesday's attack homicide attack on a U.S. base in Mosul — in which 22 people died — was not a member of the Iraqi security forces.
He spoke as the Ansar al-Sunna Army (search) group, which has claimed responsibility for the Mosul strike, released a video on a Web site showing what purported to be the suicide bomber bidding farewell to two comrades and footage of what appeared to be the actual bombing.
The bombing, which was the deadliest attack on a U.S. base in Iraq, highlighted that the anti-U.S. insurgency has not diminished even after American offenses last month. A day before the attack, following a string of deadly suicide bombings in southern Iraq, Bush made a sobering assessment and criticizing the performance of Iraqi troops.
"There have been some cases where, when the heat got on, they left the battlefield — that is unacceptable," Bush said at a Dec. 20 press conference.
Asked about Bush's comments, Zebari told AP: "I think the president received misleading information."
Zebari, Iraq's only four-star general, insisted none of his troops had deserted from combat. But he acknowledged that some recruits undergoing training had quit after being told they would be posted to the restive city of Fallujah, which was taken in a U.S.-led assault in November.
"Not a single soldier ran away from the battlefield (in Fallujah). It was not a difficult battle. Fallujah was cleaned and the number of our martyrs (fatalities) was only seven." Zebari said.
The U.S. military has said investigations showed the bomber at the U.S. base in Mosul may have been wearing an Iraqi uniform when he slipped into a dining tent on the base and detonated his explosives.
Zebari said that was possible, noting that such uniforms are sold in markets. "It is not difficult for a person to wear one," he said.
"Certainly (the suicide bomber) was not a member of the National Guards because all of our men stationed in the base have been accounted for," he said.
Iraqi National Guards are also posted at the American base at Marez, just south of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.
The attack killed 18 American servicemembers and civilians and three Iraqi guardsmen and one unidentified "non-U.S. person" and wounded 69 people, prompting a wide-ranging investigation into how he had penetrated the heavily guarded area.
In the interview at his heavily guarded headquarters in downtown Baghdad, Zebari said Iraqi forces are getting stronger every day and that he expected them to be capable of replacing the Americans within six months to a year.
"The insurgents are getting weaker. Hardly a day passes without detaining or killing dozens of them," he said.
He reiterated his claim that foreign fighters are still infiltrating into Iraq from Syria.
"I don't know if the (Syrian) government is closing its eyes or the terrorists are finding their ways to cross," Zebari said.
Zebari said six Arabs using forged Iraqi identity cards were detained near the Syrian border on Thursday. He said the men were detained with explosives in their possession.
Zebari's comments came a day after Najaf's police commander, Ghaleb al-Jazaeri, said they detained an Iraqi who confessed to receiving training in a camp in Syria under the supervision of a Syrian military officer. The man was apparently involved in a bombing in Najaf earlier this month that killed 54 people.
Syria on Sunday dismissed al-Jazaeri's statements as "baseless and nonobjective."
Also Sunday, police in the northern city of Kirkuk captured two brothers, Rasem Qara and Abdul-Baset, who allegedly confessed to having links with Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaida in Iraq network, Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qader said.
In Baghdad, masked gunmen assassinated a high-ranking Iraqi police officer, Col. Yassin Ibrahim Jawad, and wounded his two bodyguards, police said.
Also Sunday, a roadside bomb hit a U.S. military convoy consisting of two Humvees and a supply truck were driving in Mosul, setting the truck ablaze. The military said three U.S. soldiers were wounded in the ambush.
In the video posted on an Islamic Web site Sunday and dated a day before the Mosul attack, Ansar al-Sunnah identified the bomber as Abu Omar al-Musali. Three militants, one of them apparently al-Musali, appeared in the footage, masked and wearing black and carrying weapons.
One of the gunmen described how the attack would be carried out: The bomber "will take advantage of the change of guards. We have been observing their schedule for a long time. This lion will then proceed to his target and we will take advantage of lunch time. He will storm the dining room where the crusaders and their (Iraqi) allies are gathered," said the gunman.
The gunman and his comrade then embraced the third man — apparently al-Musali — who wore an explosives belt around his waist.