BAGHDAD, Iraq - A sniper shot and killed a U.S. soldier on patrol in a northwestern neighborhood of the Iraqi capital on Monday night, the 11th serviceman to die in a series of guerrilla assaults against U.S. forces in the past three weeks.
Military officials said the soldier, a member of the 1st Armored Division, had been sitting in his vehicle just before midnight when he was struck in the back by a small-caliber bullet. He was rushed to a battalion aid station, where he died from the wound.
Large-scale military raids continued in Baghdad and across a broad arc of territory north and west of the capital, resulting in the arrest of more than 400 people since Monday, military officials said.
Several thousand troops from the 1st Armored Division, the 4th Infantry Division, the 101st Airborne Division, the 3rd Infantry Division and the 3rd Air Cavalry Regiment were involved in the raids, which have been launched to try to suppress pockets of resistance that are fomenting small-scale attacks on U.S. forces.
Yesterday, a prominent member of the former Iraqi opposition, Ayad Alawi, criticized the military operations, saying that raids more narrowly directed at individual members of the former government of Saddam Hussein would be more effective and less inflammatory among the Iraqis.
Alawi, the exile leader who has returned here with U.S. support as the head of the Iraqi National Accord, said in an interview that coalition forces have failed to zero in on the broader leadership of Hussein's security forces.
Instead of focusing on a "most wanted" list of 55 top officials closest to Hussein, more than half of whom are in custody, Alawi said that the top 200 to 300 officials of the Baath Party, the Republican Guard, the Special Republican Guard and the major intelligence and security organs should be placed under arrest to prevent them from directing a resistance movement.
"We are stuck now on the sacred 55," he said of the "most wanted" list. "I would embark on pre-emptive arrests," he said, of up to 3,000 to 4,000 officials who are encouraging or at least sympathetic to the attacks on coalition forces. "Once you get them out of the way," he said, "it will be easy to deal with the rest" of the lower level sympathizers who have been taking orders or cash payments to undertake attacks.
Speaking at a news conference on yesterday, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, said that despite the unstable security environment, hundreds, if not thousands, of reconstruction projects were going forward across the country.
But he said in areas where military operations are under way, reconstruction efforts have been slowed because "it is difficult to do both things at once."
Responding to growing expressions of resentment from Iraqi civilians who have been caught up in mass arrests or terrified by armored assaults through their neighborhoods and villages, Bremer said, "When we have military operations we try to show that we are not at war with the Iraqi people."
Bremer also announced that the U.S.-led occupation coalition was setting up a special Iraqi court to try senior members of the Baath Party and other loyalists "who are trying to destabilize the situation here," he said. He said that before the court was set up, a committee would review all judicial appointments to eliminate judges discredited by their service in Hussein's government. Under the court rules, defendants would have the right to counsel and the right to refuse to testify without prejudice. He gave no start date.
Bremer is set to meet with the leaders of Iraq's main political groups tomorrow in an expanded meeting with other prominent Iraqis to advance discussions on how to form an interim Iraqi administration.
Most of the groups are pressing Bremer to allow them to organize a political process independent of the occupation powers so that any interim Iraqi leadership group that emerges can claim greater legitimacy before local constituencies.
In the interview yesterday, Alawi of the Iraqi National Accord, said his group would not participate in a "provisional government" that would have to "take permission" from occupation powers to govern. He called on Bremer to engage Iraqi political groups in immediate discussions on the formation of a "sovereign Iraqi government of national unity."