U.S. estimates 5,000 insurgents in Iraq

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

ABU DHABI The United States believes about 5,000 Sunnis are participating in the insurgency war in Iraq.

Officials said the estimate was conducted by U.S. Central Command, which maintains 156,000 troops in Iraq. For the last two months, U.S. Army units have been waging operations against insurgents in the so-called Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad, Middle East Newsline reported.

A U.S. Central Command official placed the number of anti-coalition forces in Iraq between 4,000 and 5,000. In a background briefing at Central Command Forward headquarters in Doha on Sunday, the official said the estimate is based on the operations of insurgents in several parts of Iraq.

Central Command has determined that the Sunni insurgency has included members of Fedayeen Saddam, Baath Party combatants and the Iraqi Intelligence Service. The senior offiical said the role of Saddam's intelligence service has been far bigger than originally envisioned.

"Iraq is more than a guerilla war," the Central Command official said.

"It is a low-intensity conflict where you have to fight terrorists, you have to fight guerrillas, you have to fight criminals and you have to achieve stability. It's a multifaceted effort, and most of the country is stable."

U.S. officials said the Sunni insurgency has not blocked efforts to stabilize the country. They said the United States has organized more than 50,000 Iraqis as part of the nation's new military, police force and paramilitary units.

"You've got to win over the goodwill of the population over time in order to be able to defeat [the Baathist holdouts] militarily," the official said.

On Sunday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who returned from Iraq, said that in the last week alone the U.S. military seized 660 surface-to-air missiles from Iraqi insurgents. Wolfowitz said a turning point in the insurgency war could be the capture or killing of Saddam.

[On Monday, U.S. troops found 40 anti-tank mines and dozens of mortar rounds in Tikrit. The military said the amount of explosives would have sufficed for a month of attacks against U.S. troops.]

Many of the attacks have been organized by senior Iraqi officers under Saddam with the rank of colonel and lieutenant colonel. The officers were said to have access to weapons and funding and often relay them to Iraqi civilians in exchange for pay.

"It's disturbing that there are that many in the country, but we're making inroads against the big threats against us," Wolfowitz said. "Maybe they'll give up when Saddam Hussein is gone."

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