Odierno Says Basra Blast Was Likely Terrorist Attack

General Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said an explosion in Basra, Iraq, yesterday was probably a terrorist attack and that he’s confident the country’s security forces are able to deal with such strikes.

“It probably was some sort of improvised explosive device that went off,” Odierno said on ABC’s “This Week” program from Iraq. The incident, which the Associated Press reported has killed at least 43 people, is being investigated, Odierno said.

A recent spike in violence won’t affect the U.S. plans to reduce the number of troops in Iraq to about 50,000 by Aug. 31, down from 144,000 in February 2009, he said. The U.S. is shifting its primary role to training Iraqi forces, protecting American interests and conducting counterterrorism operations, President Barack Obama said Aug. 2.

Odierno said that timeline won’t change, even though Iraqi politicians have yet to form a coalition government following March 7 parliamentary elections that failed to produce a clear winner.

“Our numbers are not linked to the forming of the government,” Odierno said. “We want to have the Iraqis form their own government. We’ve tried to facilitate the process without saying who should do what.”

He expressed confidence in Iraqi security forces, saying they have remained neutral and effective in spite of the political situation. He said they are able and willing to take over security.

‘No Degradation’

“I find them to be very professional,” Odierno said. “I’ve seen no degradation in their ability to perform the security profile.”

“We do believe they are ready to assume full operations in Iraq,” he said.

The general said security in Iraq has improved over the past two years, though “we have ups and downs.”

“There are still groups performing terrorist acts in Iraq,” he said.

The explosion occurred at a market in Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, and wounded about 185, the AP reported. Separately, eight people died when a suicide car bomber struck a police patrol in Ramadi, and two were killed when a car bomb exploded near a school in Fallujah, west of Baghdad today, the AP said.

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