- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2003

Saddam Hussein loyalists have put a bounty on the heads of American troops in Iraq in a loosely organized resistance movement that, while killing U.S. troops, is “insignificant” to the overall military mission, a top commander said yesterday.

A mission success came yesterday as U.S. Central Command announced the capture of one of the closest advisers to Saddam who may shed light on the ousted dictator’s fate.

The command nabbed Abid Hamid Mahmud, Saddam’s presidential secretary and his gatekeeper for Iraqis seeking an audience. Mahmud, a distant cousin to Saddam, also served as national security adviser and a bodyguard. He is the ace of diamonds in Central Command’s deck of cards of the most-wanted Iraqis.

One central question facing the Bush administration is whether the ongoing resistance by Saddam devotees is centrally organized.

A top American ground commander, Maj. Gen. Ray Ordierno, chief of the 4th Infantry Division conducting anti-resistance raids north of Baghdad, described his enemy as a mix of Ba’ath Party loyalists, Fedayeen Saddam paramilitaries, ex-intelligence service members and poor Iraqis who are being paid to kill Americans.

“They’re being paid by ex-Ba’ath Party loyalists, who are paying people to kill Americans,” Gen. Ordierno told reporters at the Pentagon via a tele-press conference from Iraq. “But from a military perspective, it is insignificant. They’re having no impact on the way we conduct business on a day-to-day basis in Iraq.”

The Washington Times in Tuesday’s editions quoted an ex-Iraqi military officer as saying the resistance was offering more than $700 to kill an American. Since May, 42 American troops have died in Iraq in accidents and hostile fire.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday the nature of the Iraqi resistance is being debated within the administration and the evidence points to “pockets of dead-enders,” not a centralized campaign plan.

The American sweeps and raids that commenced last week will “take some time” to root out the enemy, the defense secretary said at a Pentagon press conference, where he was flanked by retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner. Mr. Garner is back from Iraq after running the initial stabilization mission now supervised by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Mr. Bremer and Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, briefed President Bush yesterday via a secure TV hookup. The White House plans to nominate Gen. Abizaid as the next Central Command chief, replacing Gen. Tommy Franks who retires in July.

Gen. Ordierno, whose 27,000-soldier Task Force Iron Horse has conducted more than 50 raids to de-Ba’athize an area the size of West Virginia, said the Iraqi attacks are not orchestrated by a central command authority, but concocted by small groups village by village.

“There are just some plain Iraqis who are poor and are being paid to attack U.S. forces,” Gen. Ordierno said. “All these attacks are uncoordinated. They are very ineffective and, in my mind, really do not have much effect on U.S. forces.”

Assessing the enemy, he added, “They do not have the will. And in most cases I’m not sure they really believe in what they’re doing.”

The two-star general said soldiers raided two farmhouses yesterday near Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown 100 miles north of Baghdad. There, soldiers encountered guards who surrendered rather than fight the armored force. Inside the two houses, the Americans seized more than $8 million in U.S. bills, 300 million to 400 million Iraqi dinars, and British pounds and euros, Gen. Ordierno said.

The 4th Infantry and other units conducting raids have captured more than 400 Iraqis. Gen. Ordierno hinted that some big names are in custody.

“I believe over the next three to four days, you will hear much more about the number of senior Iraqi individuals we have detained here over the last couple of days,” the general said.

Based in Tikrit, Gen. Ordierno’s task force is running operations in a number of northern Iraqi towns, including the oil-producing city of Kirkuk.

He listed several rebuilding accomplishments: hiring more than 4,000 police officers; opening a provisional police academy; installing two bridges across the Tigris River to improve commerce and peacekeeping operations; activating 24 of 28 hospitals in the region; improving the quality of drinking water and restarting electric power.

Rather than facing angry Iraqis, the soldiers are mostly encountering pro-American citizens who want to rebuild a post-Saddam Iraq, the general said.

He said locals ask, “How is it done in the United States? What can we do to make democracy work in our country?”

Mr. Rumsfeld said the Army is now fighting the war it avoided in taking Baghdad, which fell April 9. The United States left alone towns such as Taji, Samara and Balad, where Iraqis fled and then reorganized.

“What happened, basically, was the war was fought in this area, and to some extent up there, but not in this area,” Mr. Rumsfeld said, pointing to a map of the areas where the Army has conducted raids the past week — west, north and east of Baghdad. “That area collapsed. And those people disappeared. So there were too few of the Ba’athists and the Saddam Hussein enforcers that were captured or killed in that area. And that means that that portion of the conflict continues.”

Mr. Garner summed up the situation this way: “There are problems in Iraq and there will be problems in Iraq for a while. There’s always problems when you’ve been brutalized for 30 years and you take people out of absolute darkness and put them in the sunshine, it takes a while for them to get their feet.”

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