In Iraq, attacks shifting to Iraqis allied with U.S.

Rumsfeld says purpose is intimidation, but strategy could backfire

November 26, 2003|By COX NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Iraqis allied with the American-led coalition face an increased threat from insurgents who have come under strong attack from U.S. forces in recent weeks, officials said yesterday.

"The security situation has changed," L. Paul Bremer III, the top U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, told reporters at a Baghdad briefing.

"In the past, attacks against coalition forces were predominant. Now terrorist attacks against Iraqis are occurring regularly."

The latest round in Baghdad came late yesterday as three large explosions rocked the city. They struck near a police station, a bus station and an unidentified building, a coalition spokesman said.

None hit inside the so-called green zone nearby that houses U.S. headquarters, he said.

The source of the attack was under investigation, as was the possibility of casualties, the spokesman said.

The coalition also reported that U.S. soldiers at a base near Tikrit, responding to mortar fire yesterday, captured 24 men and confiscated two AK-47s, ammunition and a stake used to target mortars.

The coalition statement said two people, who might have been civilians, were found, one wounded and one dead.

At a Pentagon briefing, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters the increased attacks on Iraqis could have two outcomes:

"One is there's a risk of intimidation, which undoubtedly is their purpose. And, second, there's a risk from their standpoint that the Iraqi people won't like being killed and attacked by the former regime elements that are still trying to take back that country for Saddam Hussein."

Recent attacks against Iraqis have included car bombs and killings. Last week, insurgents used donkey carts to fire rockets at the Iraqi Oil Ministry building and two hotels in Baghdad.

Attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq are down to about 30 a day from a daily high of about 45 a few weeks ago, the coalition spokesman said.

Such attacks include all armed assaults, ranging from mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to small arms fire and improvised explosive devices. Many of the attacks do little or no damage.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, in response to a question at the Pentagon briefing, said there had been a "very, very modest" increase in attacks outside the area known as the Sunni Triangle, where that branch of Islam is concentrated, as are many people loyal to the deposed regime.

"We're still looking at what this means in terms of the strategy of the former regime elements that we're up against," said Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the effort in Iraq, said recent U.S. offensives - which have included, for the first time in months, the use of large bombs and air assaults - have driven down the number of attacks against coalition forces as those against Iraqis have risen.

Abizaid, who was at the briefing with Bremer, said a combination of Iraqi security forces and coalition troops are pursuing the attackers: "We have enough troops to do that."

In another development, CARE Australia, the international humanitarian organization's lead agency in Iraq, which was attacked by a rocket last week, has withdrawn its six or seven international workers and told Iraqi staffers not to report to work.

Lurma Rackley, a spokeswoman for CARE USA in Atlanta, said there had been no U.S. workers on the CARE International team in Iraq for several weeks. The non-Iraqis have been moved to Jordan, Rackley said.

"Any decision that is made that affects the CARE family is made by CARE International as a group," Rackley said.

"The entire CARE family would be affected if we are unable to carry out our mandate. There will be serious conversations to see if we can help the people of Iraq return to normal life and at the same time ensure staff safety."

She said CARE in Iraq did not receive a direct threat either by letter or audio tape. Instead, she said, a flier was found after the bombing warning that people who rent space to CARE or other non-governmental organizations were in danger.

Also yesterday, the new U.S. blueprint for transferring power in Iraq appeared to be hitting snags, the Associated Press reported: Some Governing Council members want their interim body to exist longer than proposed, while others bemoan the absence of any reference to the role of Islam.

The problems are likely to complicate the delicate political process, replete with multiple deadlines spread over 25 months.

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