- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Pro-Saddam Hussein guerrillas have devised a number of different explosive devices and road-blocking techniques to ambush and kill American soldiers in Iraq.

Military sources in Iraq say the attacks began in April with crude explosive devices and hit-and-run gunfire. The enemy, for example, would put land mines inside a sandbag and leave it in the middle of the road.

Now, the opposition’s methods are more sophisticated as each side executes new tactics and the other side adapts. When convoys started spotting the sandbag mines, the Fedayeen and other Ba’ath Party loyalists began putting the mines out of sight on the roadside, attached blasting caps and detonated them by remote control.

“Every few days it appears the Iraqis are improving their techniques,” said an Army officer in Baghdad.

The Iraqis have gotten so good at crude bomb making that the military quickly came up with an acronym — Improvised Explosive Device or IED — to describe the family of deadly gadgets.

To make another type of explosive, the Iraqis are pulling the pin on grenades, but holding the “spoon” so it does not detonate. The spoon is held down with duct tape and the grenade dropped into a 5-gallon can of gasoline. In a few hours, the tape dissolves, setting off a fiery explosion that can cause more damage than the grenade by itself.

Guerrillas are also attacking by forcing a convoy to slow down and then peppering it with AK-47 rifle fire and rocket-propelled grenades. In some cases, they place cinder blocks on the road or pieces of metal to slow the target.

In one attack, young Iraqis tried to warn a convoy by shouting “Ali Babba” — meaning bandits — up ahead, but the soldiers did not comprehend the warning, according to an officer with direct knowledge of the encounter.

“When the enemy finds a niche that they can exploit, they continue to do so,” another officer said. “If not, they vary the techniques until they achieve success.”

Senior Ba’athists who hoarded huge sums of cash during Saddam’s rule have offered thugs and criminals as much as $1,500 for each dead soldier. Said a military officer, “In an economy where a doctor makes $350 a year, a brick layer makes $200 per year and a common laborer makes $150, the offer of 10 years’ salary to kill an American is quite a temptation.”

The Fedayeen, the Gestapo-like units formed by Saddam’s late son Uday have also used mosques to conduct planning and training. The military, in turn, has focused eavesdropping techniques on mosques and has been able to foil several attacks, military sources say.

“The biggest problem is lack of trained interpreters,” one officer said.

The Pentagon this week acknowledged that Saddam followers have gotten more sophisticated in their attacks. But they said the number of assaults is declining as the military counters the new tactics and acts on an increasing number of tips from Iraqis to sweep up the enemy.

“The fact is that they are getting somewhat more sophisticated, and this is a concern,” Lt. Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Joint Chiefs of Staff director of operations, told reporters at the Pentagon. “So we have to adapt. And the way we do that … is we go on the offense and we engage and we go uncover those locations where the bomb-making material exists.”

Gen. Schwartz listed hundreds of captures and the seizure of large caches of weapons as proof that a series of sweeps from south of Baghdad to the north of Tikrit are slowly, but surely, destroying the opposition.

“I think it’s safe to say that sources are improving,” he said. “We have people in custody who are providing information. We have walk-ins who are providing information. And we are continuing to pursue those leads.”

U.S. Central Command said yesterday it is continuing to increase the number of patrols and raids. In the past 24 hours, it said soldiers arrested 559 guerrillas and criminals.

Gen. Schwartz said one new enemy tactic was to stage attacks where a road curved, forcing vehicles to slow down. Now, reconnaissance teams scout such areas for paramilitaries before the convoy arrives.

“What we’ve seen is a transition from what began largely as small-arms attacks to attacks with use of rocket-propelled grenades, and now the use of improvised explosive devices,” Gen. Schwartz said. “And that reflects a level of sophistication which has matured over time.”

The military has captured some of Saddam’s former bodyguards, leading to speculation that searchers are closing in on the ousted dictator.

Larry Di Rita, spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said whether a high-value target is taken dead or alive depends on the fugitive, not the hunters. “The decisions made by the individual being pursued will prevail, in most cases, if he doesn’t wish to be taken alive,” he said. “In many cases, it’s difficult to take them alive.”

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