- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Pentagon officials confirmed yesterday that they have identified the top eight to 10 leaders of the insurgency in Iraq, but said the United States had no idea how many insurgents had been killed or captured in the past seven months.

Spokesman Larry DiRita said up to 17,000 Iraqis were in custody at any given time for a variety of reasons, but he was unable to evaluate a Pentagon analyst’s estimate a day earlier that 50,000 insurgents had been killed or captured this year.

“We’re detaining a large number of people who are under investigation either as criminal elements or potential insurgents from whom we can gather additional information,” Mr. DiRita said.

“But, you know, we don’t tend to count. Nobody’s maintaining a count of the size of the insurgency or the numbers that we’re capturing because … it’s not a metric that has a lot of meaning by itself.”

Marine Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, appearing with Mr. DiRita at a Pentagon briefing, confirmed that U.S. commanders know who is heading the bloody insurgency.

“We have an index, we think, on who the leadership is, and we do know that they occasionally meet,” he said.

“That doesn’t portend, I think, other views that it is a very well commanded or controlled insurgency, but we do know that they meet from time to time to talk organization and tactics.”

Gen. Jack Keane, a retired deputy chief of staff for the Army who has traveled to Iraq four times since 2003 — twice on assessment missions for the Pentagon — had said at a public forum Monday that some of those meetings took place in Syria and Jordan.

Studies released at the same forum, sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, show a steady rise in the overall number of terrorist attacks in Iraq despite Gen. Keane’s estimate of 50,000 insurgents killed or arrested over the past seven months.

With money pouring in, Syria providing a safe passage, and an unlimited number of weapons, explosives and manpower available in Iraq, the insurgency remains formidable, he and other military experts said.

“They’ve got blood on their hands and no future in Iraq,” Gen. Keane said of the insurgents, who have staged more than 20 suicide attacks in the past two weeks alone.

The overwhelmingly Sunni-based insurgency, he said, draws mainly from 150,000 leaders and thugs trained by Saddam Hussein to kill and repress the population. The insurgents “have no political agenda whatsoever,” he said Monday.

Gen. Keane was traveling yesterday, and Mr. DiRita said the Pentagon had been unable to reach him to ask about his estimate of 50,000 insurgents dead or arrested.

Jeffrey White, former head of the Regional Military Assessments Group at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said by telephone yesterday that the insurgents had become deeply entrenched in Iraqi society and would be difficult to root out.

U.S. strategy has been to limit U.S. casualties, encourage the political integration of alienated Sunni elements, strengthen Iraqi security forces and contain the insurgency, he said.

But while American forces have been very effective at clearing insurgents from specific areas, they have failed to stem the overall number of attacks.

“A lot of this has been described as ‘whack-a mole’ or pushing Jell-O,” said Mr. White. “We have not been able to rid areas of the insurgency on anything like a permanent basis.”

Mr. White, who now works with the Washington Institute, said the insurgents have close ties to people in the tribal, religious, business and criminal communities.

“The bombings, shootings and assassinations are only the tip of the insurgent activity — there is also financial activity, organizing, recruiting and propagandizing,” he said.

He and other military analysts said Syria has emerged as a critical support base for the insurgency.

Francis J. “Bing” West, who served as assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration and spent months with the military in Fallujah, Iraq, said many insurgent financiers live in Syria.

“A substantial amount of money is coming in to help this movement from the outside,” agreed a former military officer with Middle East expertise now working as a private consultant.

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