BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Japan put off a decision Thursday on sending troops to Iraq, a day after the deadliest attack on coalition forces since the war, and South Korea capped its contribution at 3,000 soldiers -- new setbacks to U.S. hopes for easing the pressure on its forces.
U.S. troops pounded suspected guerrilla targets in the capital for a second straight night under a new "get-tough" campaign against the insurgency. And the top American administrator, L. Paul Bremer, headed back to Baghdad after two days of White House talks with orders that Iraqis should take more responsibility for governing.
On the eve of a visit to Tokyo by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Japan decided the time isn't right to send its forces to Iraq, indicating its deployment might be delayed until next year.
Japan had hoped to send troops to Iraq to help rebuild the country by the end of 2003, but chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda backed off, saying Iraq is still too unstable.
"Japan has said it wants to think about the timing" of its deployment, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said in Washington. "We understand that."
South Korea also decided to limit its contribution to 3,000 troops, President Roh Moo-hyun announced. South Korea also ordered its 464 troops in southern Iraq to suspend operations outside coalition bases. Denmark also rejected a push by two Danish soldiers' unions to bolster its 410-member force by 100 more troops.
Many countries and agencies in Iraq, including Spain, the Netherlands, the United Nations and the international Red Cross, have been reconsidering their presence since they became targets.
The reassessments came a day after Wednesday's suicide truck bombing at a base for Italian forces in the southern city of Nasiriyah killed at least 32 people -- 18 of them Italians, and wounded more than 80. Officials said several of the wounded are not expected to survive.
Speaking to reporters earlier today en route to Asia, Rumsfeld said countries that decide to participate in military operations in Iraq should do so only if they believe it is in their own interest.
"It's a dangerous country, it's a violent country," Rumsfeld said. "It's been a violent country for a long time and it very likely will be for a long time. Certainly people need to participate there with their eyes open."
Bremer headed back to Baghdad to work with Iraqis on developing a plan to speed up establishment of an Iraqi government.
In Washington, a senior U.S. official said the Bush administration is proposing elections in the first half of next year and formation of a government before a constitution is written.
For months, the administration has insisted that Iraqi leaders write a constitution and hold elections before power shifts from U.S. occupiers to Iraqis. But on Thursday, Rice said the Iraqi Governing Council has resisted that American timeline.
"It is still important that the Iraqi people have a permanent constitution and elections for a permanent government. Nothing has changed," Rice said. "But what is also important is that we find ways to accelerate the transfer of power to the Iraqis -- they are clamoring for it, they are, we believe, ready for it."
President Bush also expressed resolve to curb the violence against coalition forces.
"We're going to prevail," he said. "We've got a good strategy to deal with these killers."
For a second straight night Thursday, steady explosions shook Baghdad after sundown, part of a "Operation Iron Hammer," -- a U.S. campaign against insurgents.
American troops also shelled a dye factory on the southern outskirts of Baghdad in retaliation against rebel attacks on coalition headquarters.
The plant, which has been idle since the war that deposed Saddam Hussein, was rocketed by Apache helicopters on Wednesday evening. U.S. commanders said it had been used by insurgents to store ammunition.
On Thursday, U.S. soldiers with loudspeakers drove through the neighborhood warning occupants to leave before the impending strike. Later, at least nine large-caliber shells were fired into the empty plant, heavily damaging the structure.
The tactical goal was not immediately clear since this sprawling metropolis of 5 million people has other sites to launch attacks.
But the effect of retaliatory tactics could have the long-lasting effect of increasing resentment among Iraqis already upset by the heavy-handed tactics of the U.S. military.
"George Bush said he wants to forge friendship between the Iraqi people and America. Is this how he wants build this friendship?" said the plant's owner, Waad Dakhel al-Boulani, as he watched the shelling. "The only weapon that they found inside was a Kalashnikov rifle for the guard."
Lt. Col. George Krivo, the U.S. Army spokesman in Iraq, said that similar operations against the insurgents would intensify and continue. "What you are seeing ... are stepped-up offensive operations to push terrorists out of their lairs," he said.
The command said troops also launched air and ground operations against a Republican Guard facility used to fire on the coalition. The statement did not identify the facility, but Iraqi civilians reported heavy firing and other military activity in the western edge of the capital, which includes Baghdad International Airport.
American troops of the 1st Armored Division also attacked mortar positions around the city, U.S. officials said. Insurgents have used mortars to stage recent attacks against the headquarters compound of the U.S.-led coalition as well as other U.S. facilities.
Strong detonations could be heard in the center of the city. The military confirmed they were part of the U.S. operation.
People also reported a series of explosions late Thursday in Fallujah and Khaldiyah, cities west of the capital.
Faced with a worsening security problem, coalition authorities said Thursday they were closing a major bridge over the Tigris River which reopened about two weeks ago for the first time since the city fell in April. Coalition spokesman Charles Heatly said the 14th of July Bridge would be closed indefinitely "following recent serious events."
Deputy Interior Minister Brig. Gen. Ahmed Ibrahim said police arrested six people, including four foreigners, in operations Thursday. He refused to identify the nationalities, but a policeman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they included a Syrian, a Yemeni and an Afghan.
The Nasiriyah attack has raised fears that Iraqi resistance groups were gradually extending their area of operations to include the country's mainly Shiite Muslim southern regions which have generally been well-disposed toward the U.S.-led coalition. The insurgency, which originated in the "Sunni Triangle" north and west of the capital, has spread in recent weeks to the northern city of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest.
In Tampa, Fla., Gen. John Abizaid said the forces opposing the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq total no more than 5,000 insurgent fighters.
"They're a despicable bunch of thugs that will be defeated," said Abizaid, who heads the U.S. Central Command.
The largest and most dangerous portion of the opposition forces consists of those still loyal to Saddam, he said.
"The goal of the enemy is not to defeat us militarily," Abizaid said in a news briefing. "The goal of the enemy is to break the will of the United States of America, to make us leave."
There are 130,000 U.S. forces in Iraq, and more than 22,000 coalition forces.