Iraqi resistance gets reinforcements
By Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News
Islamic militants and foreign fighters, including suicide bombers, are streaming into Iraq to bolster the resistance to the U.S.-led occupation and to threaten Iraqis who cooperate with U.S. troops, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.
ALTHOUGH BAGHDAD FELL to U.S.-led coalition forces two months ago, Iraq remains essentially a war zone as former members of the Iraqi intelligence service and militiamen of the Saddam's Fedayeen paramilitary organize deadly hit-and-run attacks on U.S. service members.
Forty-one Americans have been killed since the fighting officially stopped, the latest an Army soldier felled by a sniper Monday night. The attacks have become a "daily occurrence," an Army spokesman said.
"There is an element of society here that doesn't want change, and they see the coalition forces as bringing change in the form of freedom and democracy," said Army Col. David Perkins, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade.
Senior military officials and analysts told NBC News that the Pentagon seriously underestimated the threat of a potential guerrilla war in Iraq. They suggested that Central Command may not have the right mix of troops on the ground to fight it.
"In the Sunni areas north and west of Baghdad, where there wasn't much fighting during the war and where radical Baathist elements didn't see the might of the U.S. Army, we have faced a lot more problems than we expected," said Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"We need to have units that can go after those who might be thinking about guerrilla activities in this so-called 'Sunni triangle' north and west of Baghdad," Clawson said.
TOO MUCH ARMOR?
There are currently 145,000 U.S. personnel in Iraq, but senior Army officials said on condition of anonymity that there was too much heavy armor and not enough light infantry or military police to combat the emerging threat.
Instead, the forces are concentrating on rounding up Baath Party loyalists and suspected insurgents. In the past three days, they have detained more than 400 suspects.
But many members of the resistance are former government officials still loyal to deposed President Saddam Hussein who melted away into the general population after the government fell. They are being augmented by Islamist militants who have continually entered the country through Syria and Jordan, U.S. intelligence sources said, and they are undetectable until they attack.
Moreover, anger at the U.S. raids has grown among the population, creating a groundswell of sympathy for forces resisting the U.S.-led occupation.
"We are a proud people, and we will not accept this humiliation," a senior tribal leader in Ramadi, Abu Adel, told the Associated Press. "[The Americans] should beware the wrath of the Iraqi people."
"For every action, they should expect a reaction," said Sheik Saad Nayef al-Hardan, chief of Iraq's largest Arab tribe, the Dulaim. "Those attacks are a sign that the tolerance to the humiliation is running out."
'THE WILL NEVER CRUMBLED'
L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. envoy in charge of administering postwar Iraq, told NBC News in an interview: "When we have these military operations, we try very quickly to show that we are not at war with the Iraqi people.
"We are trying to deal with the people who are, indeed, themselves at war with the Iraqi people -- these kinds of people who are attacking us in the area west and north of Baghdad," he said.
But Clawson said U.S. forces were behind the eight ball in some areas because they did not use enough firepower in initially subduing the country.
"Unfortunately, in the areas north and west of Baghdad, it looks like the will never crumbled in the same way that it did in the south and center of the country," he said.
"You'd have to anticipate at least six months before we could get this under control. Results don't come automatically."
Jim Miklaszewski is NBC News' chief Pentagon correspondent.
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