U.S. now sees central command behind Iraq insurgency

Wednesday, December 3, 2003

The United States has acknowledged that insurgents are being directed by a central command that recruits and finances the campaign against the coalition in Iraq.

After months of denials, U.S. generals have concluded that Saddam loyalists have organized a network of insurgents throughout the Sunni Triangle. The generals said the Sunni command directs, finances and helps recruit insurgents, many of whom are criminals released by the former Iraqi president nearly a year ago.

"I'm increasingly of the belief that there's central financial control and central communications," Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division, said. "There's clearly some central communications."

U.S. officers said the military intelligence picture on the Sunni insurgency began to change in November. U.S. forces captured a Sunni cell responsible for the Oct. 26 missile attack on Baghdad's Al Rashid Hotel and confirmed the existence of a Sunni command. The officers said the cell captured on Nov. 6 was composed of 28 members.

Some groups in the insurgency network have used Islamic names to conceal their connection to the former Saddam regime, Middle East Newsline reported. One group composed of Baath Party security officials has used the name Mohammed's Army. Other groups have joined with Islamic volunteers from such countries as Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen in planning suicide attacks. About 2,000 foreign volunteers are believed operating in Iraq.

The generals said the leadership of the Sunni command has not been identified. But they said the command appears to be also linked to smugglers, who sell cooking oil and other staples to the Baghdad area.

"Our human intelligence suggests a link between price gouging and the financing of these networks," Dempsey said. "I can't say for sure it exists. But I have enough to know it's worth addressing."

Dempsey and Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling confirmed many of the assertions by lower-level U.S. officers who as early as September reported the formation of a Sunni insurgency command. The generals said the command oversees about a dozen groups with up to 1,000 insurgents in and around Baghdad.

The larger Sunni insurgency cells contain up to 100 members, the generals said. The smaller cells range from between 10 to 20 insurgents. But Dempsey, whose forces are responsible for the Baghdad area, told a briefing on Monday that the Sunni command does not plan insurgency attacks.

The general said operational decisions have been left to insurgency cells throughout the Sunni Triangle. But the command directs the pace of the attacks and was responsible for the lull in early November.

[On Tuesday, Iraqi sources reported that the U.S. military has captured Izzet Ibrahim Al Douri, the leading aide to Saddam. Al Douri was said to have been arrested in the area of Kirkuk. The U.S. military has not confirmed the report.]

"We believe there's potential for a marriage of convenience," Hertling said. "When former regime loyalists want to do a specific attack, they will recruit foreign fighters to do that attack."

The Sunni command was believed to have ordered major strikes against U.S. forces, including rocket and bombing attacks in Baghdad. U.S. officers said the command has helped coordinate large operations, such as the attack on a U.S. armored force in Samara on Sunday. The U.S. military reported that 54 Iraqis were killed in the clash.

"Well, in this case it was a little better coordinated than some of the attacks we've seen of late," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director for operations,

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