General foresees surge of Iraqi rebel attacks

Posted in Iraq | 15-Dec-03 | Author: Joel Brinkley| Source: International Herald Tribune

Path to elections will be rough, he says

BAGHDAD - The commander of U.S. military forces in Iraq said Sunday that he expected guerrilla attacks and related violence to increase as Iraq moves toward national elections next summer.

The commander, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, added that insurgent forces were bent on disrupting Iraq's transition to democracy and "will have to conduct some sort of operations against the political and economic sector."

"We expect to see an increase in violence as we move toward the transfer of sovereignty in June and July," he said. Sanchez noted that the number of attacks against occupation forces had decreased in the last two weeks as the military intensified its offensive operations. But his remarks during a news conference about expected violence in the next six months show that the military does not expect any decisive defeat of insurgent forces in the foreseeable future.

He added that even if American forces capture or kill Saddam Hussein, a goal that remains a top priority, that will not extinguish the resolve of the guerrilla fighters, as some officials have predicted.

"The killing or capturing of Saddam Hussein will have an impact on the violence," he said, "but it will not end it."

Sanchez stressed the military's resolve to attack the insurgents at every opportunity, using whatever weapons seem appropriate, including heavy munitions.

But the larger message from his remarks seemed to be that United States and allied forces are facing a long, hard slog with no apparent end in sight.

The broader American strategy for reducing the attacks against Americans is to train thousands of Iraqi police, security and military forces over the next year to take their place. Sanchez said the military had decided to increase the size of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, a paramilitary force that assists in fighting the insurgency, to 40,000 in the coming year from its current strength of 13,000.

But the general insisted that one plan, promoted by several Iraqi officials last week, would never be put into place.

Several members of the Iraqi Governing Council reported last week that they had come to an agreement with the American military to incorporate scores of fighters from each of seven private militias that belong to seven political parties. These fighters, 700 to 1,000 in all, would be formed into a new battalion, the Iraqis said.

Sanchez said those reports were false. "Our position has been consistent," he said. "We will allow Iraqis to join our security forces at any time." But "they will be coming in as individuals," not militiamen, "under our command and control."

"There is no place for militias" in Iraq, he added.

The occupation authorities banned private militias months ago and vowed to disband them.

In Mosul on Sunday, one American soldier was killed and another was wounded when a roadside bomb blew up under an army Humvee, the military said.

That death brought to 192 the number of American soldiers killed in combat since President George W. Bush declared major combat over on May 1. Another bomb hidden among garbage beside the road in Iskandariyah killed a child Saturday evening, the military reported Sunday. The child's identity was not made public.

Rumsfeld said that the Pentagon, eager to field Iraqis to handle a variety of security duties, has had to cut corners in training to get Iraqis on the job quickly.

"We are going to have to retrain some of them, unquestionably," Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him after his one-day visit.

U.S. forces and allies are training Iraqi police officers, border patrol agents, civil defense corps members, site-protection guards and soldiers in a new national army.

Rumsfeld said at least 107 of these Iraqis already had been killed on the job.

"Experts say it should take eight weeks to train a policeman," he said. "We put some out on the street after four, with the understanding that we needed them on the street and life isn't perfect."

Rumsfeld said the Pentagon aimed to provide the remaining weeks of training in the future.