- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

The new commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said yesterday that Saddam Hussein loyalists are orchestrating a “classic guerrilla-type campaign,” a statement that contradicts Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s war assessment last month.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, who became chief of the U.S. Central Command earlier this month, said the opposition force is “getting more organized, and it is learning.” At a Pentagon press conference, he said cells of six to eight guerrillas, backed by regional financiers, are mounting daily attacks on U.S. troops.

At a June 30 press conference, Mr. Rumsfeld rejected the notion that resistance in Iraq has approached the level of a guerrilla campaign.

“I guess the reason I don’t use the phrase ‘guerrilla war’ is because there isn’t one, and it would be a misunderstanding and a miscommunication to you and to the people of the country and the world,” he said then.

After listing the resisters as looters, criminals, remnants of the Ba’ath Party and “foreign terrorists,” Mr. Rumsfeld added, “They’re all slightly different in why they’re there and what they’re doing. [It] doesn’t make it anything like a guerrilla war or an organized resistance. It makes it like five different things going on that are functioning much more like terrorists.”

Gen. Abizaid, however, used the word “guerrilla” twice during his press conference. “I think describing it as guerrilla tactics being employed against us is, you know, a proper thing to describe in strictly military terms,” he said.

After that remark, Rumsfeld spokesman Larry Di Rita, who was with the general, took the microphone: “The discussion about what type of conflict this is, … like so many other discussions that we’re having within the context of Iraq, is almost beside the point.”

Gen. Abizaid then said: “Look, war is a struggle of wills. You look at the Arab press. They say, ‘We drove the Americans out of Beirut. We drove them out of Somalia. You know, we’ll drive them out of Baghdad.’ And that’s just not true. They’re not driving us out of anywhere.”

Some Pentagon officials, including Mr. Rumsfeld, have refused to use the word “guerrilla” because it conjures up an image of an enemy that is well organized and has popular support. Instead, the official line has been that the Saddam loyalists are a ragtag force dispersed around the so-called Sunni Triangle from Baghdad to Tikrit.

Gen Abizaid, who succeeded Gen. Tommy Franks at the Central Command, said the enemy force is “getting more organized, and it is learning. It is adapting. It is adapting to our tactics, techniques and procedures, and we’ve got to adapt to their tactics, techniques and procedures.”

The general spoke after another deadly day in Iraq, when one American soldier was killed; anti-U.S. forces fatally shot a pro-American mayor; and a few U.S. troops went on ABC-TV to complain about their situation in Iraq.

The Army soldier was killed when a rocket-powered grenade struck a convoy in Baghdad, bringing to more than 30 the number of U.S. military personnel killed in hostile action since President Bush declared an end to major combat May 1.

In a new twist, resisters fired a surface-to-air missile at a C-130 cargo jet landing at Baghdad’s airport. The missile missed.

Mohammed Nayil al-Jurayfi, who had cooperated actively with U.S. forces as mayor of Hadithah, was killed when his car was ambushed by attackers firing automatic rifles as he drove away from his office in the city 125 miles northwest of Baghdad, police Capt. Khudhier Mohammed said. One of the mayor’s sons also was killed.

Capt. Mohammed said the mayor was slain because he had been “seizing cars” from Saddam loyalists who used to work in the deposed leader’s offices in Hadithah.

The Hadithah police captain said some government employees received a leaflet yesterday warning them not to go to work.

The leaflet was signed “Liberating Iraq’s Army.” On Tuesday, a member of the previously unknown group went on Al Arabiya television and promised retribution against any country sending peacekeeping troops to Iraq.

Gen. Abizaid said yesterday that there are sufficient coalition forces (about 150,000 Americans and 13,000 allies) to fight the enemy and help rebuild Iraq.

“I think our current force levels are about right,” he said. “If the situation gets worse, I won’t hesitate to ask for more.”

He said units could spend a year in Iraq before going home. The remaining two brigades of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division will return home to Fort Stewart, Ga., “soon,” he said.

ABC aired interviews with some 3rd Division soldiers, who complained of the extended tour, noting sweltering 120-degree weather and dangerous neighborhoods where a grenade or bomb can explode at any moment. One soldier said he no longer cared what happened to Iraq.

Another was more blunt. “If Donald Rumsfeld was here. I’d ask him for his resignation,” Spc. Clinton Deitz said.

Gen. Abizaid clearly was upset by the soldiers’ breach of military code. “It’s very unfortunate that soldiers, professional soldiers, made comments like that,” he said. “None of us that wear this uniform are free to say anything disparaging about the secretary of defense or the president of the United States. We’re not free to do that. It’s our professional code.”

Gen. Abizaid also took the opportunity to comment on the political and media climate in Washington.

“You come away from a trip to Iraq confident,” he said. “You come away from a trip to Washington after a week here saying, ‘What’s going on here?’”

He said U.S. forces are continuing a strategy of collecting intelligence to find and attack clusters of Saddam loyalists. He said intelligence is focusing on midlevel Ba’athists who appear to be the primary enemy after the party was ousted from power in Baghdad on April 9.

There is some evidence that al Qaeda operators, or their supporters, are behind some of the attacks, the general said. Ansar al-Islam, a group linked to the terror network and that had a huge camp in northern Iraq before U.S. forces destroyed it during the war, also is trying to re-emerge, he said.

“We have to take our military activity to the enemy and we have to defeat these cells,” Gen. Abizaid said.

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