U.S. officials in Baghdad said yesterday that sympathizers of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party may have infiltrated the coalition's security forces and supplied inside information to insurgents.
The statements came in the aftermath of a brazen attack by pro-Ba'athists on a Fallujah police station during the weekend that killed 25 Iraqi police officers.
Americans in the capital, Baghdad, said the attackers may have been aided by information from inside police headquarters and that the mayor of Fallujah had been detained for questioning.
Insurgents had attacked the same police compound Thursday when Gen. John Abizaid, the four-star chief of U.S. Central Command, was paying a visit. He was not harmed.
"I think there's always a risk, anytime you have any organization stood up, such as the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps or the Iraqi security forces," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director for operations of Combined Joint Task Force 7 in Baghdad. "We do have a very careful vetting process. That process is very good, but it's not fail-safe nor foolproof."
Daniel Senor, a spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, told reporters, "We apply the strictest standards of the de-Ba'athification policy to every area of public service, of government service in Iraq, especially the security services.
But, he added, "This is not to say that, from time to time, individuals do not slip through the cracks and make it in. That will happen from time to time, and when we have that information, we seek to address it and rectify it immediately."
Other officials say the United States is conducting an aggressive counterintelligence program to weed from the government any Saddam sympathizers. Officials have declined to comment on whether they have identified or arrested any spies.
Mr. Senor said the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council surveys the credentials and resumes of job-seeking Iraqis. It has a strict policy of rejecting members of Saddam's ousted ruling party.
"Just in terms of senior Ba'ath Party members who apply for positions in our security services or anywhere else in government, unless they go through some appeals process -- assuming we have the information about their Ba'ath Party status -- we will not allow them to serve," Mr. Senor said.
The Washington Times reported Jan. 26 that some senior Bush administration officials think Saddam sympathizers have penetrated coalition headquarters and are relaying information on troop and VIP movements.
They cite a rocket attack in October on the hotel in Baghdad where Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying. The rocket hit one floor below his room and killed a U.S. Army colonel.
The issue arose yesterday because of the bold attack on the Fallujah police station Saturday.
The 15-minute attack showed some sophistication. Attackers converged on the station and started firing simultaneously; they knew where prisoners were being held and they had cut communication lines beforehand so police could not summon reinforcements.
"We understand that there may have been some inside connections with the people who did the attack," Gen. Kimmitt said. "We have taken some people in the city of Fallujah into custody for interrogation as part of this investigation."
The 82nd Airborne Division, which oversees the Fallujah area, thinks that the attackers were Iraqi citizens, not foreign terrorists. The two Fallujah attacks in the past week point out the need for American troops to remain in the hotbed of pro-Saddam fighters, the general said.
"There is no timetable for local control," Gen. Kimmitt said. "The fact remains places like Fallujah are not ready for local control."