- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2003

The Iraqi town of Fallujah, for weeks the epicenter of resistance to U.S. occupying forces, has quieted down in recent days, after U.S. commanders sent an armored Army brigade through town to clean out Saddam Hussein loyalists.

“It’s been fairly quiet the last couple of days,” Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the top American ground commander in Iraq, said at a Pentagon press conference yesterday.

“I would hesitate to predict it will stay that way forever, but it’s been quiet for the last couple of days, and it’s been a success.”

The taming of Fallujah is among the first tangible achievements in Gen. McKiernan’s strategy revealed earlier this month to start cracking down on resisters instead of waiting for them to attack his soldiers.

He has dispatched tanks, attack helicopters and ground troops into strongholds of Saddam loyalists. The aim is to put an end to a series of ambushes and sniper attacks on U.S. forces in towns north and west of Baghdad that have killed 40 American troops in the past month.

By putting more firepower into Sunni Muslim strongholds still loyal to Saddam’s old Ba’ath Party regime, the Army has killed scores of enemy fighters and captured more than 500.

In the latest incident, a gang of Iraqis hiding in a thicket of reeds rushed a 4th Infantry Division tank column 30 miles northwest of Baghdad, the Associated Press reported. The tanks returned fire, killing four Iraqis. Reinforcements arrived and by the time the shooting stopped the soldiers had killed 27 enemy fighters.

The incident illustrated the Army’s new tactics: respond immediately to ambushes with air and ground forces so paramilitary forces do not escape.

“We will maintain that pressure, causing him to react to us, rather than vice versa,” Gen. McKiernan said. “Are there bad guys still out there? Absolutely. Are we going after them? Absolutely.”

U.S. Central Command yesterday released more details on a combined air-ground attack Thursday on a suspected terrorist camp operating northwest of Baghdad. The surprise attack killed 70, the command said.

Military intelligence is sifting through the destruction to determine whether the operators had ties to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, which carried out the September 11 attacks.

“We struck it very lethally, and we’re exploiting whatever intelligence value we can get from that site for future operations,” Gen. McKiernan said. “I will just tell you that it was a superbly planned and executed operation with both air and ground forces, and the element of surprise was on our side. And it was conducted very decisively.”

Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, who heads the Coalition Provisional Authority now running Iraq, said on Thursday there was no evidence that Saddam is directing the resistance. Saddam’s fate is unknown, although some government analysts believe he was killed April 7 by an Air Force strike on a building in the Mansur district of Baghdad.

Gen. McKiernan said yesterday he sees no sign of a central command structure for the resisters. U.S. officials say the fighters are a mix of the Fedayeen Saddam, Ba’ath Party operators, former Republican Guard officers and foreign combatants who enter Iraq through Syria.

“There’s certainly the probability that there are financial trails that lead to other parts in Iraq, and there might be communications that go to other parts,” Gen. McKiernan said. “But I see these as decentralized, only coordinated locally, not nationally.”

In northern Iraq, flames spewed from an oil pipeline that runs from the Iraqi refinery town of Bajili into Turkey. Local residents said Saddam loyalists sabotaged the export pipeline, but coalition spokesmen indicated the explosions were the result of years of poor maintenance.

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