- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

BAGHDAD — U.S. forces soon will begin the active phase of an onslaught against black marketeers who are suspected of using their illegal operations to fund the anticoalition insurgency and terrorist attacks in the capital.

Code-named “Operation Iron Justice,” the campaign directed by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey aims to root out rings of drug smugglers, traffickers in women and sophisticated forgers of high-value bank notes, U.S. military sources said in interviews.

The operation will be conducted in tandem with other anti-insurgency operations, notably within the Sunni Triangle under the 4th Infantry Division.

Operation Iron Justice already has begun with “aggressive intelligence-gathering,” said Capt. Aaron J. Hatok, a public-affairs officer for the 1st Armored Division, which controls Baghdad and its environs.

The “kinetic portion” will include both pinpoint raids on crime rings and the cordoning off of areas that then will be subjected to dragnets, he said. He predicted the raids would turn up other “targets of opportunity.”

The new operation will involve all 37,000 soldiers in the 1st Armored Division and follow closely on the successes of Operation Iron Hammer, which targeted the planners and operators of the insurgency rather than its financiers.

Iraqi police and security operatives from the new Civil Defense Corps also will participate.

“Because of our intelligence-gathering, I think we can minimize our impact on the average Iraqi citizen,” said Capt. Hatok.

The U.S. strategy has been to give local forces as prominent a role as possible in order to minimize any hostility toward American forces.

Coalition strategists are aware that Iraqis deeply resent raids on private houses. Entering a woman’s bedroom is considered immoral by Muslims, and photographs of U.S. soldiers with their boots on suspects’ necks have infuriated Iraqis.

Many Iraqis say that even Saddam Hussein’s regime did not resort to such invasive tactics, although experts note that the fear was so great under Saddam that a knock on the door was sufficient to ensure immediate compliance.

U.S. counterintelligence officers working with Operation Iron Justice say they are worried that local security forces might have tipped off some potential targets, allowing many to flee or hide before raids.

There also are fears that poorly paid police will be vulnerable to bribes, especially from forgers and black marketeers.

Recently introduced Iraqi bank notes, printed without Saddam’s image, are complex and apparently very difficult to forge, senior coalition banking officials say. One European official said the notes “are even better than the new euros.”

Forgers would need very sophisticated printing systems to duplicate the notes, he said, though they will have an initial advantage because many Iraqis are not yet familiar with the real notes.

A wave of black-marketeering activity and kidnapping for ransom also have unnerved many Iraqis.

U.S. military tactics in Baghdad have changed significantly in recent weeks, with a sharp reduction in the amount of military traffic in the streets.

Nights are eerily quiet on the capital’s main east-west thoroughfare, where numerous convoys of tanks and vehicles used to rumble noisily with lights ablaze. Roadblocks in the city now are manned almost exclusively by local security officials.

The black marketeers and forgers arrested in the new sweeps are to be “processed into the Iraq court system,” said Capt. Hatok. At present, thousands of suspected insurgents, terrorists and saboteurs are lumped together in a crowded prison camp near the airport.

So-called “high-value detainees,” including those on the U.S. most-wanted list, are in a separate facility nearby. Authorities have said only that Saddam is being held somewhere within greater Baghdad.

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