- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

The pro-Saddam Hussein guerrillas killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq increasingly are embracing the tactics of terrorists by targeting civilians.

Yesterday, an improvised explosive device — a weapon favored by Saddam loyalists — was ignited near a truck carrying an American contractor for Kellogg Brown & Root, an engineering and construction company involved in rebuilding Iraq.

The explosion killed the worker, making him the first American civilian killed in Iraq since Baghdad fell to the coalition April 9.

Still, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld gave an upbeat status report yesterday on operations in Iraq. He told reporters that the July 22 killing of Saddam’s two sons by U.S. forces spurred Iraqi informants to step forward to pinpoint the enemy.

“With the deaths of Uday and Qusai Hussein last month, confidence is growing in Iraq that the Ba’athists will not be returning to power,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “As a result, more Iraqis are coming forward to help the coalition as the coalition works to get the country back on a path of stability and self-government.”

Since President Bush declared an end to major hostilities May 1, 52 American military personnel have died in hostile fire. In recent days, the pace of guerrilla attacks appeared to have slowed as a series of aggressive U.S. sweeps captured hundreds of Iraqi resisters.

Reuters news agency reported from Baghdad that in addition to the contractor killed yesterday, three other civilians have been killed in guerrilla ambushes: a British journalist, a Sri Lankan worker for the Red Cross and an Iraqi driver for the United Nations. Pro-Saddam fighters also have killed Iraqi politicians and police who are helping the coalition transform the Ba’athist-run country into a democracy.

In a high-profile assassination last month, Saddam loyalists ambushed and killed Mohammed Nayil al-Jurayfi — the pro-American mayor of Hadithah, 125 miles northwest of Baghdad. Among other actions, Mr. Jurayfi had been confiscating the cars of Ba’ath Party functionaries. The mayor’s son also was assassinated.

Mr. Rumsfeld has begun labeling as “terrorists” the hodgepodge of Iraqi resisters, be they Fedayeen Saddam gangs or former Republican Guard officers.

“There will be continued attacks — some by the remnants, more by our forces going after those who are still attempting to reimpose their dictatorship,” he told reporters July 24. “With each step the Iraqi people take forward, the terrorists’ hopes of returning to power grow dimmer.”

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has used the same word.

“I believe we are still fighting terrorists and terrorist supporters in Iraq, in a battle that will make this country safer in the future from terrorism,” Mr. Wolfowitz said July 27 on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The designation could carry legal ramifications. If Washington officially calls captives terrorists, they could be taken to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or some other prison and subjected to closed military trials. In contrast, prisoners of war typically win release at the end of hostilities.

U.S. Central Command had no immediate comment on the legal status of those charged with killing Americans and pro-U.S. Iraqis.

In his first Pentagon news conference as head of Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid referred to “significant terrorist groups and activities … most of this is all happening in what we call the Sunni Triangle”— between Baghdad and Tikrit, in the north.

“The mission of the nation is to ensure that we achieve stability in Iraq, and that requires defeating the Ba’athist threat and defeating the terrorist threat that we’re facing now,” Gen. Abizaid said.

Senior officials sometimes talk of the entire pro-Saddam force as “terrorists.” But the coalition also has battled traditional terrorist groups in Iraq such as Ansar al-Islam. That organization, linked to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda, operated a huge training camp in northern Iraq until invading U.S. forces, teamed with Kurdish rebels, destroyed the compound early in the war.

Gen. Abizaid said Ansar al-Islam foot soldiers have been attempting a comeback in Iraqi.

“We don’t know exactly how they’re infiltrating,” he said. “There’s some impression that they could be infiltrating through Iran. There’s also possibility that there were people that instead of moving away from the center of Iraq after they were hit, moved down into Baghdad. So it’s clear that Ansar al-Islam is reforming and is presenting a threat to us.”

The general also spoke of al Qaeda or al Qaeda look-alikes that have been detected planning attacks.

Earlier this summer, U.S. forces attacked and destroyed a makeshift terror camp in western Iraq at Ar Rahwah, about 50 miles from the Syrian border, through which foreign Islamic fighters had infiltrated the country.

Intelligence before the war said al Qaeda members fleeing Afghanistan moved through Iran and Iraq on their way back to Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Some may have stayed in Iraq or traveled back inside the country after Baghdad fell.

“I think the Ba’athists have nothing to lose by attacking Americans using terrorist tactics,” said Robert Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who is now a military analyst. “What are they going to do? Become upstanding citizens in a new democratic Iraq? Of course not.”

Mr. Maginnis said he believes sporadic reports that say Saudi, Syrian and Yemeni jihadist are in Iraq participating in attacks.

He said an incentive also is provided by the fact that Mr. Bush’s main Democratic critic on Iraq, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, indicates that he would pull U.S. troops out of Iraq if he is successful in his bid for the presidency.

Mr. Maginnis said: “If you’re a jihadist in Iraq, and watching Al Jazeera TV and seeing the ongoing debate between the American Republicans and the Democrats, primarily with the leadership of Governor Dean suggesting the current approach to Iraq is all wrong, that is only going to fuel the enthusiasm and tenacity of those resisting and hoping for a resurrection of the Ba’ath Party.”

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