- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

MOSUL, Iraq — U.S. forces yesterday swept through more than 20 towns and arrested more than 60 people in Operation Sidewinder a show of force designed to quiet and intimidate Saddam Hussein loyalists believed to be behind a wave of attacks on American troops.

Chief civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer maintained during a tour of northern Iraq yesterday that the attacks would not slow the introduction of self-rule in Iraq, promising the creation of a provisional council by the middle of next month and an eventual federal government granting broad powers to the nation’s ethnic factions.

Mr. Bremer also promised early cash payments to thousands of former soldiers, whose military training and lack of employment make them likely recruits for the anticoalition forces.

Elements of the 4th Infantry Division and Task Force Ironhorse began the latest U.S. operation at 2 a.m., sweeping through towns across a wide area stretching from the Iranian border to north of Baghdad.

“No coalition forces casualties were reported in the raids. Sidewinder is … ongoing,” said a statement issued by the U.S. Central Command. It said the troops had detained more than 60 people and had seized weapons and military documents.

Spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Young told the Associated Press: “We go in with such overwhelming combat power that they won’t even think about shooting us.”

Officials said the raids were aimed at rooting out former members of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party believed responsible for a wave of almost daily attacks on U.S. forces. At least 22 Americans have been killed by hostile fire since the combat phase was declared over May 1.

In the latest such incident, an explosive was detonated on a road leading to Baghdad’s international airport, injuring two Americans and killing an Iraqi civilian in a passing convoy.

A U.S. patrol also came under fire from rocket-propelled grenades west of Baghdad, but no one was injured, the military reported.

Another U.S. soldier was evacuated for emergency treatment after being shot last night as he stood outside the main gate of the 101st Airborne Division’s base in Mosul, about 300 miles north of the capital.

It was the first U.S. injury in 20 days in this city. Forces of Operation Sidewinder arrested 15 persons in the city yesterday and seized weapons, Ba’ath documents and Republican Guard uniforms.

The action came just hours before the arrival of Mr. Bremer, who mollified civic leaders worried by unrest that has been exacerbated by large-scale unemployment and the absence of an Iraqi transitional government.

While saying that a transitional government remains some time away, the administrator did promise after a meeting with the mayor to promptly pay the ex-soldiers, who have mounted three large demonstrations in the past two weeks.

Six demonstrators were killed by bodyguards of the recently elected mayor, prompting an attack on the city’s police station by some of the protesters, who set it ablaze. They then stormed a new coalition prison in the city, releasing all its inmates, including murder and looting suspects.

Mr. Bremer, who also met yesterday with Kurdish leaders in the northern towns of Sulaymaniyah and Saladin, told reporters that the timetable for creating a democratic Iraq would not be altered by the wave of violence.

He outlined a political road map that involved setting up an “Iraqi Council” and convening a constitutional conference “within months.” A provisional council that would begin laying plans for Iraq’s political future should be in place by mid-July, he said.

Mr. Bremer refused, however, to estimate how long U.S. forces would be needed in Iraq, saying only that they would leave “as soon as the country has a democratic, freely elected government,” something that could take “months or years.”

Meeting in Saladin with Massoud Barzani, the leader of one of two main Kurdish factions, Mr. Bremer said the coalition “does back the principle of a federal democratic state,” a notion favored by most Iraqi political leaders.

Some Iraqis worry that a federal system with a weak central government could lead to a breakup of the country, producing a scramble for control of its oil revenues and inviting military interference from its neighbors.

Others argue that federation is the only way to hold the ethnically diverse nation together and ensure that political institutions will not be dominated by the largest voting bloc, the Shi’ite Muslim population.

Support for the coalition is strongest among the Kurds, who have enjoyed effective autonomy and relative prosperity since 1991 in a no-fly zone defended by U.S. and British aircraft.

Numerous roadside banners in the region yesterday offered profuse thanks to the coalition for ousting Saddam and proclaimed Mr. Bremer, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair heroes and liberators.

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