- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2003

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, said yesterday he believes that Saddam Hussein is alive and hiding near his Iraqi hometown of Tikrit, where loyalists of the ousted dictator are orchestrating attacks against U.S. soldiers.

“Saddam Hussein, I think, is alive and I think he’s in Iraq. And the sooner we can either kill him or capture him, the better, because the fact that his fate is unknown certainly gives his supporters the chance to go around and try to rally support for him,” Mr. Bremer said yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“I think, in time, we’ll get him,” he said, noting the $25 million reward for Saddam’s capture or proof of his death.

Meanwhile, the lead U.S. military commander in the region said he expects to see stiffer guerrilla resistance in the weeks and months ahead as American forces hand over more tasks to the emerging Iraqi administration.

Mr. Bremer is in Washington to brief President Bush on bringing peace to Iraq, and appeared on several of the Sunday political talk shows.

“I am absolutely confident that we are on track to conduct a political, economic and military strategy that is going to leave Iraq — consistent with the president and prime minister’s view — with an elected, representative, democratic government in Iraq, which is something they have never enjoyed before and which will be a model for the Arab world,” Mr. Bremer said.

Gen. John Abizaid told reporters at a Baghdad hotel yesterday that he applauds the establishment of the Governing Council, but said that “in the short run it creates great anxiety among our enemies, and they’ll increase the level of resistance.”

Since major combat ended May 1, 37 U.S. soldiers have been killed by hostile fire, including four servicemen over the weekend. That brings the total death toll to 151 since the war started March 20.

No evidence suggests that Saddam himself is behind the attacks, which are mostly occurring in the Sunni triangle between Tikrit and Baghdad where Saddam is believed to be, Mr. Bremer told “Fox News Sunday.”

Earlier this month, the CIA said that an audiotape urging Iraqis to fight U.S. forces was “more likely than not” the voice of Saddam.

Mr. Bremer said the organized resistance is not being led by “disgruntled factory workers” but by “professional killers” and former members of Saddam’s military

“These are guys who are trained soldiers,” Mr. Bremer said on Fox. “But it’s important to remember that these attacks are in a very small area of the country, a country which was traditionally Saddam’s area of support, and they pose no strategic threat to us. We will overpower them.”

However, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Fox host Tony Snow that having just returned from Iraq, he saw firsthand how the people still fear Saddam.

“He’s still alive and he controls that country,” Mr. Rockefeller said. “Not through popularity, but through fear of retribution.”

Gen. Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command, said he is creating an Iraqi militia to help counter the attacks and said Iraqis are eager to participate.

“There is an awful lot of enthusiasm in Iraq to have people armed and serving with us because they want to defend their country,” he said.

The general said he was “enormously optimistic about our opportunity for success, as long as we don’t lose our nerve.”

Essential services such as water and electricity are being restored to prewar levels, which is a substantial accomplishment given the lack of investment in the infrastructure in 35 years, Mr. Bremer said.

“Sure, we’ve got some hard work ahead of us, but we’ve come a long way already,” he said.

Mr. Bremer told NBC host Tim Russert he did not know how many years it would take, but that “given the size of the task, we’re going to be there for a while.”

“We’ll get a constitutional process started here in the next couple of months. Once the constitution is written and we have elections, we’ll get a sovereign Iraqi government. And at that point, the coalition’s job is done,” he said.

“There may still be a need for security forces, but at least the civilian coalition authority, which I head, will then at that point hand over sovereignty to an Iraqi government,” Mr. Bremer said.

Nearly 40 nations have pledged $3 billion to Iraq’s reconstruction, and 19 countries have contributed troops on the ground.

There are nearly 150,000 coalition troops in Iraq, and a larger U.S. commitment is not needed, Mr. Bremer said.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, disagreed and told NBC more troops and funding are needed within 90 days.

Coalition troops may be in Iraq as long as five years to establish a strong military and police force, a Pentagon panel said last week.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Mr. Bremer said he sees the random strikes as “attacking our successes.”

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