Friday, July 2, 2004

Abu Musab Zarqawi has set up a network so well organized in Iraq it deployed a Yemeni suicide bomber in a car to blow up a police station just 48 hours after he entered the country, says L. Paul Bremer, the former top U.S. administrator in Baghdad.

“He had arrived in the country only two days before, and as analyst of terrorism for some time now, this was quite revealing to me,” said Mr. Bremer, describing an incident in December when the Yemeni was shot and captured after his bomb failed to explode.

“It showed a very high degree of organization that you could have a guy come across the border and within two days marry him up with a rather elaborate plot. Targets. A thousand-pound bomb built into his car. He has the car. He knows the target. It’s quite impressive.”

Mr. Bremer told the story yesterday to editors and reporters of The Washington Times to illustrate the tough task the coalition faces in trying to rid Iraq of the Zarqawi network. Zarqawi is on the run today as the most-wanted man in Iraq. The Bush administration Wednesday upped the reward for his capture or killing from $10 million to $25 million.

Mr. Bremer said Zarqawi’s terrorists were mostly trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. They arrive in Iraq not as undisciplined jihadists, but as professionally trained killers.

Zarqawi himself has moved in and out of Fallujah, Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

“He is actively involved in selecting targets,” Mr. Bremer said. “He’s quite careful with his operational security. Sooner or later, he’ll make a mistake and we’ll get him.”

His network is “in the low hundreds in Iraq, if that many,” Mr. Bremer said. Zarqawi cells are so hard to penetrate that he will likely be active and trying to kill people in Iraq well after the coalition has defeated other militant groups, the former administrator said.

“They are non-Iraqis,” Mr. Bremer said of the Zarqawi group. “They tend to be from Yemen. Or Sudan. Some Saudis. We haven’t captured a lot of them. We captured some. So we have some insight into the organization. It’s a professional terrorists organization. It’s well done. They have cellular structure, so information doesn’t flow very widely. Makes it difficult to penetrate. Even if you penetrate, you don’t get much information beyond the cell you’ve penetrated. It’s a very professional operation. Very dangerous. They are clearly responsible for almost all, if not all, the suicide attacks.”

Mr. Bremer talked on the same day that the U.S. military in Baghdad disclosed that a suspected Zarqawi safe house was bombed by a precision air strike in Fallujah, a city of 300,000 still not subdued by the coalition. It was the fourth such air strike on a Zarqawi cell in the past two weeks in that city, underscoring the United States’ desire to put the deadly organization out of business.

Mr. Bremer said there are three main pillars of the enemy facing American troops and allies:

• The Zarqawi Tawhid organization, whose main goal is to kill Iraqis who are allies of the American-led coalition.

• Pro-Saddam Hussein insurgents. These are former regime members, such as intelligence agents and former members of the Gestapo-like Fedayeen, who work in independent cells with no overall leader. Their main targets are coalition troops.

• Foreign fighters. These are loosely knit bands of jihadists who mostly enter through Syria, organize cells in safe houses and attack coalition troops.

“These are people who either answered the call for jihad at the beginning of the war itself, in the kinetic phase of the war, or have come in across rat lines from Syria mostly since then, either answering the call of jihad or just because they want to come and fight the United States,” Mr. Bremer said.

He said the U.S. was not particularly successful in gaining good intelligence on the overall insurgent groups as attacks escalated. But he downplayed any problems the Abu Ghraib prisoner scandal may present. Some analysts have said it has made interrogators reluctant to press detainees for information.

Instead, Mr. Bremer said, the answer lies in a rebuilt Iraqi intelligence service acquiring the intelligence needed to finally destroy the Iraqi militants.

“I think in the end better intelligence will come from the Iraqis’ forces and intelligence service, not better application of interrogation techniques from our people,” he said.

“We’ve been working with the new Iraqi intelligence service now for three or four months and it will be very important for it to begin to produce actionable intelligence. It’s always going to be easier for Iraqis to figure what’s going on in a given community than even the best Americans.”

Mr. Bremer, who left Iraq on Monday after turning over power to a new Iraqi interim government, believes self-rule will go a long way toward defeating the old Saddam supporters.

“I think that things will go better now because the occupation is over,” he said. “They should become more effective against at least the insurgency part. I don’t say they’re suddenly going to break the code on Zarqawi. That’s hard, a really hard target. But on the insurgency, they ought to be with better intelligence and better military forces more effective.

“An Iraqi government has the capacity to by being strong, [to] also offer to those sort of supporters on the fringes of the insurgency some kind of role in the political future of the country, by broadening the political base in way that would be difficult for non-Iraqis to do.

“So you could imagine that in the next few months and indeed I expect in the next few months — I don’t think it will happen overnight — you’ll begin to see better effectiveness against the insurgency.”

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