Sunday, January 25, 2004

Some senior administration officials suspect that Saddam Hussein’s followers have penetrated the coalition headquarters in Baghdad and passed information to guerrilla fighters.

A defense official told The Washington Times the suspicion at this point is not based on conclusive evidence, but on supposition.

The source said some senior officials believe it is too much of a coincidence that Saddam loyalists know where and when to attack Army convoys. At times, attackers also seem to know the planned route of low-flying helicopters, more than 10 of which have been shot down since May.

Moreover, some guerrilla cells in Baghdad seem to know beforehand when coalition VIPs are visiting Iraq.

One possible example was the October visit to Iraq of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a prime architect of President Bush’s oust-Saddam policy.

Guerrillas aimed rockets from a makeshift launch pad at, or near, the floor on which Mr. Wolfowitz was staying at the Rashid Hotel. The rockets hit one floor below Mr. Wolfowitz’s 12th floor room. He escaped unharmed, but one U.S. Army officer was killed.

Military officials at the time said they did not believe the guerrillas targeted Mr. Wolfowitz. But months later, some Pentagon officials said the attack of eight to 10 68-mm and 85-mm rockets may have been an attempt to assassinate Mr. Wolfowitz.

Asked about possible penetration, a senior military officer involved in Iraqi planning said, “This is always a concern and something the enemy will always attempt to do. There are always teams who investigate this, counter-intelligence or CI teams.”

Said a U.S. intelligence official, “You always have to be mindful of and concerned about penetration. From a counterintelligence perspective, that’s always a concern.”

But the source who spoke to The Times said suspicion of penetration is so high that a special team may be put together to investigate. The team would go over the location and timing of attacks to find a pattern.

The U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad operates two major headquarters — the Coalition Provisional Authority, or CPA, run by L. Paul Bremer, and the Combined Joint Task Force 7, commanded by Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.

Iraqis work in and interact with both headquarters. In addition, the United States is putting together a security force of more than 220,000 Iraqis.

Officials acknowledge the screening process is not foolproof. The coalition cannot guarantee that rehired police officers and military commanders are not still loyal to Saddam’s Ba’athist regime, they say.

One example of a rogue Iraqi police officer emerged last summer in the Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad.

Army Lt. Col. Allen B. West learned through informants that a police officer was involved in a plot to assassinate him.

Col. West coerced a confession from the officer by firing two shots from his service pistol. He was disciplined for his effort and is retiring after 20 years of service.

Col. West was a battalion commander in the 4th Infantry Division. The division faces the majority of former Ba’athist guerrilla fighters, who plant roadside bombs, conduct drive-by shootings and take shots at coalition aircraft.

Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the division’s commander, told reporters from Tikrit on Friday that “the former regime elements we have been combating have been brought to their knees.”

He said his division’s capture of Saddam Dec. 13 “was a major operational and psychological defeat for the enemy.” He estimated that attacks on his soldiers and Iraqi allies have dropped significantly.

Gen. Odierno, who soon transfers sector control to the 1st Infantry Division, said his new worry are nationalists who might begin attacking the coalition merely because they want them out of Iraq, and not for any ties to the Ba’ath party.

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