The United States has reported continued progress in
the drive to destroy the Iraqi network of Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi.
U.S. officials said Al Zarqawi's network declined significantly over the past two
months, resulting in a reduction of insurgency attacks in the Sunni
The focus of U.S. air strikes on Al Zarqawi has been Faluja, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials
said the U.S. military has received reliable intelligence on the location of
Al Zarqawi safe houses and insurgents in the Sunni city.
"We've had great success over the last four to six weeks in eroding the
network, eroding their capability," Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, deputy operations
director for Multinational Force Iraq, said. "We've had successful strikes
against his lieutenants, the leadership within the organization and the
support that they receive."
The air force brigadier did not envision an imminent collapse of Al
Zarqawi's network. But he said "we are tearing it apart day by day."
Officials have estimated that Al Zarqawi commands more than 500
fighters, most of them based in Faluja and Baghdad. They said Al Zarqawi
himself has not been located by U.S. intelligence and was believed to be
moving from Iraq to neighboring Iran and Syria.
But Lessel told the Pentagon Channel in an interview on Oct. 8 that the
U.S. strikes against Tawhid and Jihad have affected the strength of the
Sunni insurgency. He said the total number of rocket, mortar and light
weapons attacks in Iraq has decreased from August to September 2004. At the
same time, Lessel reported an increase in the lethality of these strikes.
"When you have terrorists using car bombs killing innocent children,
killing recruits at Iraq National Guard and police stations, it gives the
impression that the level of violence has gone up, that the number of
attacks have gone up," Lessel said.
U.S. fighter-jets have launched repeated strikes on suspected Al Zarqawi
safe houses in Faluja. On Tuesday, the U.S. military reported an attack on
Al Zarqawi hideouts in the Sunni city.
"Following the engagement, secondary explosions were reported,
indicating the strong likelihood of weapons caches and explosive devices,"
the military said in a statement on Tuesday. "Terrorists frequently planned
operations from this location. The location had been under the terrorist
organizations control for more than a year and innocent civilians knowingly
On Oct. 8, the U.S. military reported air strikes on a safe house that
contained Tawhid and Jihad leaders in northwest Faluja. There was no word of
In September, several aides of Al Zarqawi ø including Abu Anas Al
Shami, the No. 2 man in the network, and Mohammed Al Lubnani ø were killed
in U.S. military strikes. Officials said U.S. combat aircraft have conducted
more than a dozen precision strikes against Al Zarqawi operational sites
Officials said the U.S. military operation against Al Zarqawi and other
Sunni insurgents has focused on Faluja and Samara. Samara was said to be
returning to normal in wake of the recent capture of that city in a joint
"We are making progress every day in eroding the network of foreign
fighters and criminal elements," Lessel said. "There have not been any
attacks in Samara. "People are out on the streets, life is returning to
normal. We were able to return and restore some of the construction projects
that had been started week ago."
But officials said Iraqi insurgents appear to be gearing up for another
campaign of violence, this time to coincide with the Islamic fast month of
Ramadan, which begins on Oct. 15. They said the U.S.-led coalition was
increasing security measures and reinforcing units.
"We certainly hope we can keep the insurgents off balance so that they
do not conduct operations as extensively has they have in the past," Lessel