MOSUL, Iraq (CNN) — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived for an unannounced Christmas Eve visit early Friday with U.S. troops at a base in northern Iraq where 22 people died in a suicide bombing earlier in the week.
The secretary, who has faced criticism in recent weeks for his stewardship of the Iraq war effort, arrived in Iraq accompanied by media.
The trip was reminiscent of a surprise journey President Bush took to Baghdad on Thanksgiving 2003.
On Thursday, Lt. Col. Steven Boylan told CNN a torso found at the scene of Tuesday’s blast at the base in Mosul was wearing an Iraqi military uniform, and authorities believe it was the torso of the bomber.
Earlier, Brig. Gen Carter Ham, U.S. commander in Mosul, told CNN the attack was likely carried out by a person wearing an Iraqi military uniform and carrying a bomb in a vest, Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, U.S. commander in Mosul.
Ham said the investigation into the deadly attack continues but it appears the bomb was detonated inside the Camp Marez mess hall. The explosion killed 22 people, including 14 American soldiers.
Ham also said that providing security for the planned January 30 elections will be difficult because of existing problems with Iraqi forces.
“I have enough U.S. boots on the ground. I do not have enough Iraqi boots on the ground,” he said. “The development of Iraqi security forces has not been as fast as any of us would have liked.”
If the investigation concludes that a uniformed Iraqi soldier detonated the bomb, the training process could be further complicated.
The Pentagon is investigating how U.S. forces check the backgrounds of Iraqis who work at U.S. installations.
A military spokesman said Iraqi workers have to show identification to gain entry to American facilities — but they are not always searched, nor are they always escorted once allowed to enter.
Iraqis were helping in the construction of a permanent mess hall at Camp Marez.
Suicide bombings by insurgents present a security challenge to U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon briefing Wednesday.
Myers said Ham “has a very good plan for force protection,” but he added: “We have no front lines.”
“We have had a suicide bomber apparently strap something to his body, … and go into a dining hall,” he said. “We know how difficult this is to prevent people bent on suicide and stopping them.”
Evidence at the blast site includes components normally associated with bombs. There was no physical evidence of a rocket or mortar, according to a military statement Wednesday.
In addition to the 14 soldiers, the blast Tuesday killed four U.S. civilian contractors, three Iraqi security forces and an unidentified non-American.
Pentagon officials said another 69 people, including 44 soldiers, were wounded in the attack.
Thirty-five soldiers and civilians have been transferred to a U.S. military hospital in Germany for treatment.
Nearly half of the 35 wounded are in critical condition, said Col. Rhonda Cornum, commander of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
Cornum said a “vast majority” of those being treated are expected to recover.
Group claims responsibility
Messages on Islamist Web sites said the Iraqi militant group Jaish Ansar Al-Sunna claimed responsibility for the Mosul strike, calling it a suicide attack carried out by one person. CNN could not confirm the authenticity of the claim.
The group has claimed responsibility for previous attacks, including the beheadings of a Turkish truck driver and a Kurdish official and the slayings of 12 Nepalese hostages. In its statement, it said it shot video of the attack to be released later.