Number of Iraqis enlisting from 'triangle' up sharply

Monday, December 22, 2003

BAGHDAD Sunnis from areas dominated by Saddam Hussein loyalists have volunteered in record numbers for Iraq's new security forces.

U.S. officials said the greatest number of the volunteers has come from the area of Tikrit, the stronghold of Saddam. They said the applications to join Iraqi security forces increased dramatically after the capture of Saddam on Dec. 13.

"I qualify that by saying we have to monitor that," Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor said. "But it certainly is a good signal, and it's consistent with what we've been seeing across the board: steady increases in the number of Iraqis who want to participate in protecting their country."

Officials said the increase in Sunni recruitment for the security forces comes as insurgency attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces dropped in December, Middle East Newsline reported. They said the drop appears to be linked to a shortage of funds for the Sunni insurgency command.

Over the weekend, U.S. troops intensified a campaign to stop the infiltration of Sunni insurgents from Syria. Officials said American soldiers raided Rawa, a western Iraqi town near the Syrian border, arrested numerous insurgency suspects and sought Sunni training camps.

Officials said U.S. forces also captured a former Iraqi general accused of recruiting ex-soldiers for Saddam to attack coalition targets. Gen. Mumtaz Al Taji was arrested on late Sunday in Baqouba, about 50 kilometers north of Baghdad. Officials said the Sunni volunteers for the Iraqi security forces comes after months of difficulties in recruiting those from the Sunni Triangle.

They said many Sunnis who had joined the military and security forces resigned amid threats from Saddam loyalists.

But the record response in the Tikrit area and other parts of the Sunni Triangle cannot be regarded as a trend, officials said. They said this would require more time.

"On the morning after Saddam Hussein's capture was announced, we had a record spike in the number of Iraqis signing up voluntarily to serve in the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps," Senor said. "And what's interesting is the concentration of that spike was mostly in the Tikrit area."

On Thursday, 190 Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers began initial entry training. Officials said the recruits are scheduled to graduate in January, bringing the total number of ICDC soldiers in the zone to over 4,300.

[In Washington, the United States has increased its alert to Code Orange amid threats of an Al Qaida attack over the Christmas holiday. The code is one under the highest level of alert, Code Red.]

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Combined Joint Task Force 7, said Sunni insurgents managed three attacks daily against Iraqi security forces and two against Iraqi civilians during the period between Dec. 11 and 18. In contrast, coalition forces attacked the insurgents an average of 22 times per day.

"Over the past few months, we'd seen maybe one to two attacks against Iraqi civilians every other day or so," Kimmitt said. "Now we're starting to see about two to three per day. I believe in the last week there have been as many as 21 incidents that we can attribute to people attacking civilians."

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