U.S. Starts Counterinsurgency Plan in Iraq
RAMADI, Iraq (AP) _ The hardcore remnants Saddam Hussein’s regime have moved from taking potshots at American soldiers to tougher tactics _ ambushes and drive-by shootings _ and in the process are drawing U.S. forces into a new counterinsurgency war.
With the battles intensifying, U.S. forces have been distracted from simultaneous missions in postwar Iraq aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis, thwarting crime and jump-starting democratic institutions like town councils.
Military officials suggest the new counterinsurgency war will intensify as a two-week amnesty on weapons possession expires Saturday night. Starting Sunday, any Iraqi with a weapon outside the home is fair game.
The anti-American attacks have been increasingly bold _ albeit disorganized _ particularly in the Sunni Muslim strongholds of Saddam supporters north and west of Baghdad.
``They’ve become smarter. They’ve learned from their engagements and they’re starting to refine their methods,″ said Maj. Thomas Dorame of the Army’s 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which governs the desert and Euphrates River towns west of Baghdad.
In one incident, a U.S. military convoy left a road west of Baghdad to drive around a shattered bridge. As it navigated a narrow culvert, attackers hidden in tall reeds raked the convoy with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades, killing an American soldier.
Several U.S. military officials say a tough crackdown to crush the insurgency is on the way, perhaps similar to operations that killed several Iraqis and rounded up 400 others in recent days near Balad and Duluiyah, two towns north of Baghdad.
``We’ve given them the opportunity to turn in weapons. We’ve got information on them. Now we’re going to use that information to defeat, once and for all, those elements who continue to be subversive,″ said Dorame.
For the past week, U.S. military planners have responded to ambushes with huge sweeps based on intelligence and a strategy of drawing out attackers. In turn, scattered groups of Iraqi irregulars have changed tactics: firing from crowds or moving cars and vanishing into the general population.
``Before they were just taking potshots at us,″ said Dorame, 3rd Armor’s second-in-command. ``Now they’re watching us and waiting for a good opportunity. They’ve learned from their engagements and they’re starting to refine their methods. They see the convoys and they quickly fire a few RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and disperse into the crowd.″
Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the land forces commander in Iraq, said there would be an increase in weapons seizures and other actions after the amnesty expires Saturday.
The past days’ raids ``cause the enemy to respond and strike back,″ McKiernan said. ``We will maintain that pressure, causing him to react to us, rather than vice versa.″
The Army has boosted its troop strength in the Sunni heartland in recent weeks. The 3rd Infantry Division left Baghdad to quell uprisings in the towns of Fallujah and Habaniya, which were previously the responsibility of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.
Since then, the 3rd Armor has sent more troops into combat operations in Ramadi, Hit and Hidithah _ towns even further west of Baghdad.
``We have overwhelming forces everywhere,″ said Dorame, whose unit is headquartered in one of Saddam’s palaces in Ramadi. ``We’re not allowing them to respond, to regroup and to find a safe haven within the populace.″
The 8,000 troops of the 3rd Armor control one of the toughest areas in Iraq, a string of Sunni towns lining the reedy Euphrates that gave strong support to Saddam’s regime, and grew wealthy in return.
The region saw almost no combat during the war. Dorame insisted it’s still replete with well-armed fighters who appear to be paid and encouraged by members of Saddam’s ousted Baath Party. Nine 3rd Armor soldiers have been killed since mid-April _ six of those in combat. Around three dozen have been wounded. The regiment sees combat every day.
In all, 49 Americans have been killed since major combat was declared over May 1.