KIRKUK, Iraq - Attacks in Iraq like the Arbil suicide bombings show efforts to build a new Iraq are succeeding and that extremists are using violence to stop the process, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said on Monday.
"The most discouraging news in the last couple of the days is the bombing in Arbil," said Wolfowitz, who is on his third trip to Iraq since the war ended last April.
"They took advantage of the Muslim holiday when people relaxed," he said, referring to the Eid al-Adha feast.
Sixty-seven people were killed in Sunday's coordinated bombings.
The attacks, the worst since a suicide car bomb killed more than 80 outside a mosque in the holy city of Najaf in August, killed several senior members of the main Kurdish parties -- the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
Wolfowitz, who is gauging security five months before a planned transfer of power to Iraqis, told reporters traveling with him that both parties had relaxed their usual security practices because of the holiday.
Early reports suggested the suicide bombers apparently posed as journalists, Wolfowitz said.
He predicted that these types of attacks would ultimately unite Iraqis against the violent extremists.
"September 11 had united Americans, and Bali united Indonesians and this terrible thing is going to unite Iraqis, It's not going to have the effect the terrorists seem to want," Wolfowitz said.
"The targets aren't just Americans, the targets are Kurds and Shi'ites, and anyone who is cooperating to build this new Iraq, he said. "And the more successful we are the more we can expect them to go after those things that represent success. But we're gaining ground and they're losing ground."
Major General Ray Odierno, the commander of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division in northern Iraq, said he had noticed a shift in the type of attacks.
Assailants were using bigger improvised explosive devices "to make a bigger statement" as well as increasing their targeting of Iraqi police and civilians, Odierno said.
Wolfowitz spent the day in the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, meeting U.S. military commanders, touring a police station and speaking to local officials.
In Mosul, assailants attacked a Stryker armored vehicle with a rocket-propelled grenade several km (miles) away from where Wolfowitz was touring the city center.
He and his party had been traveling in Stryker armored vehicles so they could observe how they operated.
U.S. military officers did not believe the attack was linked to Wolfowitz's visit.
Wolfowitz, asked about the Stryker attack, said: "It's pretty hard to visit a division around here on a day when they are not attacked."
Wolfowitz last visited Iraq in October when assailants attacked the hotel where he was staying with rocket-propelled grenades, killing one U.S. soldier and wounding more than 15 people.
Copyright 2004 Reuters Ltd