U.S. Forces Girding for Raids by Iraqis On Anniversary
Dates Next Week
By DOUGLAS JEHL
New York Times
WASHINGTON, July 11 American intelligence agencies are warning of a possible new wave of attacks against United States forces in Iraq during the next week to coincide with anniversaries tied to Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party, military officials said today.
The anniversaries include July 14, the date of the 1958 coup against the British-backed monarchy, which is celebrated as Iraq's National Day; July 16, the date that Mr. Hussein took power in 1979; and July 17, the date of the Baath Party revolution in 1968.
While stopping short of saying the guerrilla attacks on Americans were centrally orchestrated, the officials said the intelligence agencies were edging closer to a view that they were being coordinated at least at a regional level.
American commanders have made clear in the past that they intend to counter such attacks with aggressive military operations aimed at former Baath Party and paramilitary leaders who are believed to be leading the resistance.
Military officials refused today to discuss any future operations, but they said no one should be surprised if concern over possible new attacks prompted new American military action. "We see a heightened period ahead in which the groups who are out there will try to convince others to carry out attacks," one military official said.
The warnings extend to July 17, the date of the last anniversary, and reflect specific intelligence about possible attacks in Baghdad and other areas, the officials said. They follow a spike in attacks against American forces during the past three days.
Among the particular reasons for concern, the military officials said, are credible but unconfirmed intelligence reports indicating that senior Baath Party officials may have recently gathered for a meeting aimed at reconstituting their movement under the titular leadership of Mr. Hussein. "When you combine the intelligence that we're seeing with the sentiment that usually surrounds these days, there's reason for a lot of concern," a second military official said.
The most recent major American military operation in Iraq concluded on July 6; it was the third in a series of offensives conducted by the United States since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major military operations. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the American ground commander in Iraq, said in Baghdad on Thursday that the operations, which have resulted in several hundred arrests and the seizure of some weapons, were aimed at "former Baath Party loyalists and other subversive elements that we suspect of conducting attacks against U.S. forces."
Bush administration officials, including the defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, have said they have seen no evidence that the attacks on American forces are being centrally controlled. But military commanders have said there is ample evidence that the attacks are being coordinated on at least a local level by professional soldiers.
On Thursday, General Sanchez appeared to go even further, saying that the United States was weighing whether the attacks which he described as increasingly bold and militarily sophisticated might be part of a broader strategy orchestrated by the former Iraqi leader.
"Are they operating on some sort of commander's intent out there, if you will?" the general said. "Probably so. I mean, Saddam told us that he was going to let us into Baghdad and then strike at us here and try to break the will of the coalition. So that possibility is out there. And you know, that's what we're trying to establish at this point, see if that's part of their operational plan."
"There's no question in my mind that there are former Saddam Fedayeen trained soldiers that are out there, Special Republican Guard soldiers that are still out there continuing with their offensive against us," General Sanchez said. "So, in terms of professionalism, clearly, there are soldiers out there that continue to ply their trade against the coalition forces."
Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who stepped down this week as head of the United States Central Command, told Congress this week that "more than 90 percent" of the attacks against American forces in Iraq were taking place in the center of the country, in a region known as the Sunni Triangle "where the Baath Party was most heavily invested."
Over the last three days, American military officials said, there have been about 25 attacks a day involving American military personnel, although some were initiated by the United States. That rate is substantially higher than a week ago, though not yet as high as it was during a peak last month, the officials said.
In testimony on Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee, General Franks described the three offensive operations that American forces have carried out since May 1 as an attempt to root out the sources of opposition and their caches of weapons. "We have our people every day not sitting in base camps," General Franks said, "but rather out looking to find the Baathists, looking to find the jihadis, looking to find these people who cross the border from Syria and are hell-bent on creating difficulty."
A senior Defense Department official said today that it would be prudent to expect "other intense military operations" by American forces in Iraq in the days and weeks ahead.
As a factor in the attacks, American officials point to the view increasingly widespread in Iraq and within the United States intelligence community that Mr. Hussein and probably his sons, Uday and Qusay, are still alive. That belief has inspired fear among Mr. Hussein's opponents and loyalty among his followers, the officials say.
"I think the fact that the specter of Saddam continues to be present out
there, whether he is dead or alive, is making a significant impact on the people
of Iraq and their ability to cooperate with the coalition," General Sanchez
said on Thursday.