- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

U.S. forces in Iraq battle a frustratingly elusive resistance force that is anchored in loyalists to deposed dictator Saddam Hussein but is increasingly ready to adopt the tactics of international terrorist networks such as al Qaeda.

Bush administration officials and private terrorism experts say the attacks on U.S.-led forces in Iraq are beginning to show a division of labor between homegrown and international terrorists, with both devoted to driving U.S. forces from Iraq and undermining efforts to rebuild the country.

Iraqi resistance fighters are largely blamed for the numerous small-scale attacks on individual coalition units, typically employing homemade bombs or munitions obtained from Saddam’s arsenal.

But the string of more spectacular attacks — including the coordinated suicide bombings at three police stations and the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in downtown Baghdad on Monday — strongly suggest the hand of al Qaeda and its affiliates.

A fifth would-be attacker, now in U.S. custody, is reported to have been carrying a Syrian passport when he was caught with a carload of explosives outside another Baghdad police station on Monday. Coalition officials said yesterday that it was too soon to tell whether the arrest proved a definitive link to foreign terrorist groups.

But the suicide attacks are “a sign of foreign terrorist tactics, rather than the Saddam loyalist elements that we’re still trying to chase down,” Jeremy Greenstock, chief British representative to the Coalition Provisional Authority, said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. Radio yesterday.

“I think that Iraqis are beginning to get quite angry that foreigners have come in and started to fight a war on their soil against their interests,” he said.

President Bush, in a Rose Garden press conference yesterday, said he “assumed” that the attacks were orchestrated by supporters of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party as well as by “foreign terrorists.”

“The Ba’athists try to create chaos and fear because they realize that a free Iraq will deny them the excessive privileges they had under Saddam Hussein,” Mr. Bush said.

“The foreign terrorists are trying to create conditions of fear and retreat because they fear a free and peaceful state in the midst of a part of the world where terror has found recruits,” he added. He reiterated that the United States and its allies remain committed to their mission in Iraq.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday called ICRC head Jakob Kellenberger in Geneva to urge the international humanitarian organization to remain in Iraq. A spokeswoman said the Red Cross has not decided whether to do so.

Mr. Bush revealed that Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of the Iraq theater, had asked in a White House briefing on Monday for additional border troops to intercept terrorists trying to enter the country.

Coalition forces have claimed some victories in tracking down Ba’athist resistance rings and weapons caches.

But they have had far less visible success running to ground those behind some of the most spectacular attacks in the months since Saddam was ousted, including the August bombings of the United Nations’ headquarters and the Jordanian Embassy, the attack on the Red Cross site and the weekend strike on the hotel where Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and his visiting delegation were staying.

Yonah Alexander, who runs a terrorism research center at the Potomac Institute of Policy Studies, said the ruthlessness of the attacks — and the willingness to go after such “soft targets” as the United Nations and the Red Cross — display al Qaeda’s growing influence on what remains a largely Iraqi resistance.

“What we’re seeing is the globalization of terror,” he said. “In order to be a suicide bomber, you must be really committed to the basic justice of your cause.”

There have been few hard clues in the search for those behind the terror campaign.

A previously unknown group calling itself the “Armed Vanguards of Mohammed’s Second Army” took responsibility for the strike on the U.N. compound, in which the attackers employed a type of flatbed truck heavily used by Saddam’s government in the U.N. oil-for-food program.

But the near-simultaneous car bombings on Monday closely mirrored past al Qaeda operations, including the selection of a high-profile target, the willingness to inflict heavy bystander casualties, the failure of any group to take responsibility and the timing — right at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Not all coalition commanders say they have seen a heavy influx of foreign fighters in Iraq.

Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division stationed in Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit, told reporters on Monday that “95 percent” of the resistance forces in his area are loyalists of the former regime.

He said Iraqis “do not like people from other countries fooling in Iraqi business,” and that foreign alliances were likely only if the Saddam loyalists get “desperate.”

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