- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The top U.S. commander in Baghdad said yesterday that guerrilla attacks in his sector have dropped sharply since the Dec. 13 capture of Saddam Hussein.

Army Brig. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey also said insurgents are turning to roadside bombs as their attack method of choice, as opposed to more frontal assaults with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and rockets.

Gen. Dempsey’s New Year’s Eve assessment would seem to indicate that the pro-Saddam insurgent cells in the capital could be running out of men, weapons and motivation.

He said that a series of planned attacks executed Christmas Day turned out to be mostly one- and two-man operations designed to create an impression of chaos in Baghdad.

After suffering a month-high toll of 83 deaths in November, the U.S. military reported fewer than half that number — 38 — in December.

Still, the coalition was bracing for holiday-timed attacks. Hours after Gen. Dempsey conducted his press conference, an explosion ripped through a central Baghdad restaurant that had advertised a New Year’s Eve party, complete with belly dancers. Police reported five persons killed, all Iraqis, and 25 injured. Three of the injured were Los Angeles Times reporters — one American and two Britons.

Gen. Dempsey, who commands the 1st Armored Division, has mounted a robust series of raids in recent weeks dubbed Operation Iron Grip. The target: 14 anticoalition cells operating in only a few of Baghdad’s 88 distinct neighborhoods. U.S. officials believe they have disrupted more than half of the cells.

The division’s responsibility is the sprawling city of 5 million, under the overall control of the coalition’s Combined Joint Task Force 7, headed by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. The Army’s 4th Infantry Division patrols the Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad. The 101st Airborne Division is based in northern Iraq, and the 82nd Airborne is in the western sector.

Gen. Dempsey, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon via videoconference in the occupation’s ninth month, predicted 2004 would be a good year for his soldiers and the pro-coalition Iraqis.

“Clearly, the attacks on us have gone down,” he said. “The intelligence being provided for us by local Iraqis has gone up.”

Of the population as a whole, he said: “I think that the people of Baghdad are largely neutral to the presence of the coalition and looking for their life to improve, not unlike, perhaps, you and I would be in a similar situation. But we have seen an increase in cooperation with the coalition since the [capture] of Saddam Hussein.”

Gen. Dempsey provided a detailed description of how the insurgents use roadside bombs, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have killed scores of soldiers and civilians since Baghdad fell April 9.

“The roadside bomb remains … the enemy’s weapon of choice in Baghdad,” he said.

In employing the devices, the enemy uses remote controls so the bomb can be ignited via radio signal or land wire when a convoy goes by. Guerillas conceal them so scouts do not notice the crude but deadly bombs hidden along a road.

“You might take a burlap bag and put it on the side of the road one day, the next day put something in it, the following day put something in it, and the following day wire it. And those activities may only take you a minute or so each time, so you’re not standing there,” Gen. Dempsey said.

The Pentagon has sent equipment to Iraq that sends out a radio-wave pulse to detonate some bombs.

On Tuesday, Daniel Senor, a senior adviser to coalition civilian leader L. Paul Bremer, said there are essentially three groups of Iraqis to worry about: the hard-liners led by senior former Ba’athists; those hoping Saddam returns so they can go back to their state-provided jobs; and those reluctant to help the coalition because they fear the Ba’athists will return to power.

Gen. Dempsey said that before his division arrived, commanders “sat around the table … and we all said, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of potential here, and all we’ve really got to do is get this dictator out of the way and I think the country’s going to take off.’”

But what he found once inside the ethnically diverse Baghdad was “amazing,” the general said.

“I find that we tend to be more optimistic about the future than the Iraqi people,” he said. “And part of what I do every day is go to the city council, the district council, the neighborhood council and I tell them, ‘This is going to be OK.’”

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