- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2003

From combined dispatches

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his top military adviser said yesterday they have evidence that the Arab television news organizations Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya cooperated with Iraqi insurgents to witness and videotape attacks on American troops.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the effort fit a pattern of psychological warfare used by remnants of the Ba’athist government, which want to create the impression that no amount of U.S. firepower can end the insurgency.

“They’ve called Al Jazeera to come and watch them do it [attack American troops], and Al Arabiya,” he told a Pentagon news conference. “‘Come and see us, watch us, here is what we’re going to do.’”

Pressed for details, Mr. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both indicated that U.S. forces in Iraq had collected more than just circumstantial evidence that one or both of the Arab news organizations might have cooperated with the attackers.

“Yes, I’ve seen scraps of information over a sustained period of time,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “I’m not in a position to make a final judgment on it,” but it needs to be examined in an “orderly way,” he added.

Neither Mr. Rumsfeld nor Gen. Myers provided details of any evidence.

“I opined accurately that from time to time each of those stations have found themselves in very close proximity to things that were happening against coalition forces — before the event happened and during the event,” Mr. Rumsfeld said, according to the Associated Press.

The question arose when Mr. Rumsfeld was asked about a videotape that surfaced in Baghdad showing a man firing a surface-to-air missile at a DHL cargo plane. The tape appeared to record an insurgent operation Saturday in which a missile struck the wing of the cargo plane, forcing the aircraft to make an emergency landing at Baghdad’s airport. It was the first time that insurgents had struck a civilian plane in Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld said he had been told of the videotape but did not know enough about it to comment, beyond saying, “It doesn’t take a genius to fire off a shoulder-fired missile at an airplane.”

On Monday, the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council in Baghdad raided the offices of Al Arabiya television, banned its broadcasts from Iraq and threatened to imprison its journalists. Al Arabiya said it would report on Iraq from its headquarters in Dubai.

The raid drew accusations from fellow media organizations and journalists’ unions that free speech was being curtailed where Washington promises to let it flourish, Reuters reported.

“Closing a channel flies in the face of the principles that America claims to stand for and to want to import to Iraq,” said an official at Al Jazeera.

The International Federation of Journalists said the council’s ban on Al Arabiya was “playing into the hands of the enemies of democracy.”

In September, the Governing Council temporarily banned both news organizations from entering government buildings and news conferences, accusing them of being aware of attacks on American troops before they occurred.

In Baghdad, top U.S. civilian and military leaders said that attacks on American troops have declined in the past two weeks but that insurgents increasingly are targeting Iraqis working with the U.S.-led coalition in an effort to intimidate them.

The officials expect such attacks to surge as the U.S.-led administration begins handing power to local leaders.

“The security situation has changed,” said U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer at a press conference with Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the U.S. Central Command whose area of responsibility includes Iraq.

“As the process of democracy moves forward over the next several months, they may try to attack the institutions of democracy,” he said.

Three large explosions boomed over Baghdad last night, triggering a warning siren in the “Green Zone” housing the U.S.-led administration. A coalition spokeswoman said the blasts occurred outside the zone at a police station, a bus station and a third, unknown location.

Gen. Abizaid said the number of daily attacks on coalition forces had dropped by about half in the past two weeks.

Another U.S. military official, Col. William Darley, said attacks peaked at more than 40 per day about two weeks ago and have since dropped to about 30 per day — about the same as in October and well more than the number in August and September.

More than 60 U.S. troops were killed by hostile fire in November, more than any other month since the end of major combat in Iraq on May 1.

Hot spots Fallujah and Ramadi, two Sunni-dominated cities west of Baghdad, have seen fewer attacks recently, but unrest has persisted in the capital and spread north to Mosul and Kirkuk.

The guerrillas, whom Gen. Abizaid described as regional cells of ex-Ba’ath Party loyalists, have carried out devastating strikes on the Iraqi police. The intent, the officials said, is to intimidate Iraqis.

“If they can’t reach the coalition, they go after the people they can touch,” Col. Darley said.

Those attacks include two car bombs at police stations last weekend, the assassination of a police colonel on Saturday and the killing of a police chief on Sunday.

Mr. Rumsfeld concurred with the Baghdad officials’ reasoning on the insurgents’ strategy.

“On the one hand, by targeting Iraqi forces and Iraqi people, two things can happen. One is there’s a risk of intimidation, which undoubtedly is their purpose; and second, there’s a risk from their standpoint that the Iraqi people won’t like being killed and attacked by the former regime elements that are still trying to take back that country for Saddam Hussein,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Rowan Scarborough contributed to this report from Washington.

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