- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2004

Anti-coalition terrorists are increasingly attacking Shi’ite civilians, forcing the American military to adjust or risk civil unrest that would threaten the timetable for turning over rule to Iraqis, U.S. officials say.

“They’ve almost stopped going after Americans,” said a defense source. “That’s become too hard for them. Our troops are better protected.”

The best counteraction, sources say, is better intelligence on when the terrorists plan to attack. The problem is that the military command in Baghdad and the CIA are having problems recruiting Iraqi agents willing to penetrate the various anti-coalition cells.

“Our strength has always been electronic intelligence and, unfortunately, this is a war of person-to-person. We don’t have the right people at the right places yet,” said retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis, a military analyst.

The insurgents’ new tactic was spelled out in a seized letter from al Qaeda-linked terrorist Abu Musaab Zarqawi, a Jordanian thought to be directing some of the deadly attacks. As reported in the New York Times, Zarqawi in his letter bemoaned that U.S. troops were staying put despite taking casualties.

He called on foreign fighters and pro-Saddam Hussein Sunni Muslims to step up attacks on the majority Shi’ite population in hopes of igniting a civil war.

“He wants to show the Shi’ites that the Americans are powerless to help,” the defense source said. “If he succeeds, we are in trouble.”

The words in the letter hit home last week when six suicide bombers struck two Shi’ite targets, killing at least 140 Iraqis in Karbala and Baghdad.

“There’s no doubt that the nature of the terrorist tactics have changed and the nature of the insurgency is changing,” Gen. John Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

Gen. Abizaid, who once estimated the insurgency at about 5,000 Iraqis and foreign fighters, since has declined to update that number. But he said he thinks the number of Sunni Ba’athists is declining, while non-Iraqi invaders is a harder number to pin down.

“The number of actual foreign fighters that we continue to engage, capture, kill remains relatively low to the overall insurgent activity we see, which is primarily Iraqi,” the four-star general said. “Most of the foreign fighters when they infiltrate in, infiltrate in on either falsified documents or good documents that get them past routine security checkpoints, and then they go to safe houses within Iraq, and then they become armed.”

Gen. Abizaid declined to endorse the quality of intelligence collection, but he said more locals are coming forward to provide information.

Mr. Maginnis said there is still much work to be done to set up reliable networks of sources.

“The best of all worlds is to have in place the intelligence operators who can infiltrate groups, the jihadists, and report before they strike,” he said. “Unfortunately, we have few if anyone of that nature before the war and our efforts to place those types of people have been marginal at best up to now.”

The hope was that the emerging Iraqi security forces would begin forming their own intelligence networks. But many of Saddam’s old intelligence agents are helping the insurgents, not the Americans.

“The Iraqi security forces have yet to develop the maturity necessary to assume the security of their country,” Mr. Maginnis said. ” … clearly, the former Ba’athists and former intelligence operators are working closely with the foreign jihadists or they would not be as successful as they have been.”

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