- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2003

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — U.S. forces have arrested 35 pro-Saddam holdouts in connection with last month’s rocket attack on Baghdad’s Al Rasheed Hotel, a senior American officer said yesterday.

The former regime loyalists were tracked down after two weeks of painstaking detective work and surveillance, the officer said.

“These are Iraqis. They are not foreign fighters,” he said.

Between eight and 10 rockets hit the heavily fortified hotel, residence to senior U.S. and Iraqi officials, while Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying there Oct. 26.

The attack killed a U.S. colonel and wounded 17 persons, heralding the start of the deadliest two-week period for U.S. forces in Iraq since the end of major combat operations May 1.

U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer warned today that guerrillas would step up attacks to stop reconstruction efforts, saying several hundred foreign militants had entered the country.

“We’re going to have increased attacks and increased terrorism because the terrorist can see the reconstruction dynamic is moving in our direction,” said Mr. Bremer, adding the foreign fighters were from Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

“It will be more of a problem in the months ahead unless the intelligence gets better,” he said, in an interview with Britain’s Times newspaper.

The U.S. command yesterday announced the latest death of a soldier, who was killed late Saturday when his vehicle struck a land mine in Baghdad.

Three paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division were wounded in Fallujah, the military also reported. Witnesses said a British soldier was wounded yesterday by a land mine in the southern city of Basra.

In Baghdad, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters he expected the Iraqi Governing Council to meet a U.N. Security Council deadline of Dec. 15 for submitting a timetable for an Iraqi constitution and national elections.

“However, those timetables depend on the security situation, and if the security deteriorates, we will not be able to adhere to such commitments,” Mr. Zebari said after meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio.

An official with the U.S.-led coalition running Iraq told Reuters news agency there was “fairly strong frustration” among coalition officials at the slow pace of the Governing Council’s work.

He said the coalition had made clear the constitution should be the council’s top priority when the council was formed in July.

“Where are we four months on? We haven’t moved yet. So there is frustration,” the official said.

The senior American officer, however, was upbeat about the arrest Saturday of the 35 men in a raid on Baghdad’s ritzy Mansur district by four companies from the Army’s 1st Armored Division.

Saying he could not be certain the suspects were physically involved in the Al Rasheed attack, he described the men as a collection of financiers, weapons makers and commanders of guerrilla-style cells.

The senior officer told Agence France-Presse that the coalition had been able to track the suspects through a combination of Iraqi informers and detective work.

Soldiers examining the 40-tube homemade launcher used in the hotel attack realized there were only three or four areas in the city with metal shops that could put together the device, which had been disguised to look like a power generator.

The military started scouting out welding shops. At one metal shop in the Mansur district, they found pieces of metal painted the same royal blue as the rocket launcher. The shop’s walls were painted the same color.

After that, they started using Iraqi informants who had identified members of a reported cell in Mansur.

The military compiled a list of 20 men they believed could be involved in the attack. The names also meshed with those compiled by another U.S. government agency.

An Iraqi informant was provided with a Thuraya satellite phone so he could track the global-positioning-system coordinates of the suspects’ homes and a video camera so he could shoot footage of their homes and street addresses.

Asked if the Iraqi was a full-fledged agent employed by the U.S. government, the officer refused to say.

“These men are patriots. … They are doing it for a better life,” he said.

With the men’s addresses and images of their homes, four combat-ready companies swooped down on the Mansur area.

Of the 35 men captured, 10 were on the army’s top list of suspects. During the raid, the military also seized computers and cell phones, along with $50,000 and 7 million dinars — worth about $3,500.

“We definitely have put a dent in the anticoalition groups,” the officer said.

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