- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2003

Saddam Hussein's last remaining loyalists are using a trick they employed in the war by mingling with civilian crowds and firing on American forces trying to stabilize Iraq, U.S. military officials say.
Since the fall of Baghdad on April 9, the tactic has been used sporadically, mostly in Sunni Muslim-dominated towns such as Kut, Mosul and Fallujah west of the capital.
It was in the conservative Islamic town of Fallujah this week that 82nd Airborne Division soldiers ran up against one of the largest collection of armed Saddam loyalists. As townsfolk protested outside U.S. headquarters in an Islamic school, paramilitaries armed with AK-47s fired from within the crowd and from rooftops.
"We have seen this before where crowds gather," said Air Force Lt. Col. Ed Worley, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command forward headquarters in Doha, Qatar. "You look at the crowd, and all of a sudden they start shooting.
"These are folks who are loyal to the regime for whatever reason," Col. Worley said. "There are still folks out there. It seems that every time we get involved in one of these firefights like the ones we got involved with in Fallujah, when we get a chance to see them they are dressed like paramilitary folks."
Other U.S. military officials say the paramilitaries are remnants of several different Saddam groups. They include the dictator's fanatical Saddam Fedayeen death squads, as well as former Republican Guard fighters and special security officers.
A U.S. intelligence official said yesterday that most of the Fedayeen forces who menaced coalition troops in the war have either been killed or fled the battlefield.
Of the remaining Saddam loyalists, the official said, "You're not talking about any kind of coherent, organized fighting element. You're basically talking about ragtag elements."
Col. Worley said 82nd Airborne troops did not capture any of the assailants at Fallujah, so they do not know what type of paramilitaries were involved.
Central Command has reported at least 11 separate incidents of Iraqis firing on American troops during the past three days. One occurred in the southern Rumeila oil fields. The other 10 broke out further north, in Baghdad, Tikrit which is Saddam's hometown Fallujah and Kut.
President Bush today will address the nation from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. He is expected to declare an end to major combat operations in Iraq, as U.S. representatives work to establish an interim Iraqi government.
The military's main combat task now is to root out nests of paramilitaries and defend U.S. troops. Central Command issued a statement this week warning that Iraq remains a dangerous place.
"Coalition efforts to defeat regime pockets of resistance in Iraq are proving successful, but incidents directed against coalition forces are evidence that despite the significant decrease in active military operations, dangers are still evident," the statement said.
The United States does not discuss in detail its rules of engagement for confronting fighters that blend in with civilians. But in general terms, soldiers and Marines are told to hold fire if possible and withdraw, or to try to isolate the paramilitaries before firing. Often airborne surveillance is used to spot muzzle fire.
"Coalition forces will continue to use the appropriate amount of force to defend themselves against such threats," Central Command said.
During the battle for Baghdad, for example, airborne or ground spotters would find the source of sniper fire, then call in low-flying, armored A-10 attack jets to strike the position with cannon fire.
The Army's 4th Infantry Division in northern Iraq is discouraging attacks by launching demonstrations of force, such as buzzing neighborhoods with Apache attack helicopters.
The atmosphere is particularly tense in Tikrit, about 100 miles north of Baghdad, which is a hotbed of Ba'ath Party followers.
Some civilians, who may be ex-Republican Guard, drive up to abandoned bunkers to steal arms and ammunition. In some cases, they have been fired on by Apaches.
In the Fallujah incident Monday night, Iraqis say the American soldiers killed 13 persons. Col. Worley said the troops were fired on first, the scene was confusing, and that Central Command has no casualty numbers. "We think the numbers are less than 13," he said.
"I think our guys are showing extremely good discipline," he said. "They have M-16s. They could put them on automatic fire. But they're not doing that. They are exhibiting good weapons discipline. They are not shooting indiscriminately. They are shooting at those with weapons."
American troops came under fire for a second time in Fallujah yesterday when Iraqis threw rocks and fired at a convoy, Central Command said. The crowd dispersed when helicopters arrived. At least two Iraqis were killed, the command said.
The firefight mirrored enemy tactics during the war, especially in the southern towns of Basra, Nasiriyah and Karbala. Fedayeen guerrillas would position themselves among civilian groups, then open fire. In some cases, they faked surrenders, then shot at allied troops.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld this week is touring Gulf nations, including Iraq, to learn firsthand about the security situation.
Mr. Rumsfeld told Middle East Broadcasting: "There are still pockets of resistance, there are still people getting killed and wounded American and coalition forces by some of these so-called death squads that have been roaming around the countryside, the kinds of people who had their headquarters in hospitals and schools, the kinds of people who used the Red Crescent for military purposes and hid under the guise of humanitarian assistance, and that's the kind of people they were and they are."
Guy Taylor contributed to this report from northern Iraq. He is embedded with the Army's 4th Infantry Division.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide