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Baathist Opposition Organized, Coalition Faces 'Guerrilla-type Campaign'

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2003 – U.S. and coalition forces are facing organized opposition by Baathist remnants throughout Iraq, U.S. Army Gen. John Abizaid told reporters at the Pentagon July 16.

On the eve of his departure to the region, the new commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom and U.S. Central Command joined Larry Di Rita, acting assistant defense secretary for public affairs, at the podium to give an update on the security situation in Iraq.

The general said mid-level Baathist intelligence, Special Security Organization and Special Republican Guard people "have organized at the regional level in cellular structure and are conducting what I would describe as a classical guerrilla-type campaign against us. It's low-intensity conflict in our doctrinal terms, but it's war, however you describe it.

"We're seeing a cellular organization of six to eight people armed with (rocket-propelled grenades), machine guns, etc., attacking us, sometimes at times and places of their choosing, and at other times, we attack them at times and places of our choosing. They are receiving financial help from probably regional-level leaders."

Di Rita pointed out that the coalition's opponents have one objective, and that is to restore the regime of Saddam Hussein. The tactics they use will change, he stressed. At the moment, "they're using the tactics Gen. Abizaid has described."

"And for those who wish to discuss whether it's this type of war or that type of war, it's always better to keep in mind what they're after, and what they're after is to restore Saddam's regime to power," he added.

Although the level of resistance isn't escalating in numbers of incidents, Abizaid said, the resistance is getting more organized. The Iraqis are learning and adapting to coalition tactics, techniques and procedures.

"At the tactical level, they're better coordinated," he said. "They're less amateurish, and their ability to use improvised explosive devices and combine the use of these explosive devices with some sort of tactical activity say for example, attacking the quick reaction forces is more sophisticated."

Coalition forces are also adapting to the Iraqi opposition's tactics, techniques and procedures. "We can handle the tactical problems that are presented," the general said. U.S. and coalition forces are doing a magnificent job dealing with the current situation, he added.

"War is a struggle of wills," Abizaid noted. "You look at the Arab press (and) they say, 'We drove the Americans out of Beirut. We drove them out of Somalia. We'll drive them out of Baghdad.' That's just not true. They're not driving us out of anywhere."

Just as U.S. and coalition forces take casualties, they also "cause casualties to be inflicted upon the enemy because we are at war," he said. Abizaid noted that as many Americans have died in offensive actions against enemy forces as have been killed in enemy attacks.

U.S. and coalition troops are doing a magnificent job in Iraq, Abizaid said, and he believes the current force level of about 148,000 American and 13,000 coalition troops is "about right."

"If the current situation gets worse," he added, "I won't hesitate to ask for more (troops)."

"It's not a matter of boots per square meter," the commander stressed. "If I could do one thing as a commander right now, I would focus my intelligence like a laser on where the problem is, which is mid-level Baathist leaders. We're trying to do that, and as we do that, we'll find that we have more success."

The goal in Iraq is to reduce the level of violence so that governance can move forward, Abizaid said, but progress toward this goal will most likely be met with more violence.

"You have to understand that there will be an increase in violence as we achieve political success," he said. Those "who have a stake in ensuring the defeat of the coalition realize that time is getting short" as Iraqis become more involved in governing themselves.

Local government throughout Iraq, particularly in the North and the South, is moving ahead in a "spectacular way," Abizaid said. "In the areas where we're having difficulties with the remnants of the regime, it's less secure and people that cooperate with us are at risk. We have to create an environment where those people do not feel at risk. That means we have to take our military activity to the enemy and we have to defeat these cells."

Di Rita noted that the Iraqi governing council that met for the first time this week in Baghdad is an important step toward Iraqi self-rule. On the down side, there are reports that a local mayor was killed July 16.

"There will continue to be targeting of our successes," Di Rita said. "We understand that. There will be more set backs along the way; we understand that. But we will not be deterred. Saddam Hussein's regime is gone, and it is not coming back."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Gen. John Abizaid, commander, U.S. Central Command, briefs reporters at the Pentagon July 16. On the eve of his departure for the Persian Gulf, the new commander said U.S. and coalition forces are facing more organized resistance in Iraq. DoD photo by R. D. Ward  
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