U.S. adopts get-tough Iraq policy

Posted in Iraq | 13-Nov-03 | Author: John Burns| Source: The New York Times

As Bremer leaves for talks, general outlines new strategy

BAGHDAD - Stung by the deaths of nearly 40 American soldiers in attacks during the past 10 days, the top American military commander in Iraq on Tuesday outlined a new get-tough approach to combat operations in areas north and west of Baghdad that have been a stronghold for loyalists of Saddam Hussein.

Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez said that offensive operations would be stepped up against the shadowy groups that have mounted increasing attacks on American troops in the Iraqi heartland between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, mounting ambushes, triggering roadside bombs and, twice in six days last week, shooting down American helicopters and killing 22 soldiers aboard.

"We are taking the fight into the safe havens of the enemy, in the heartland of the country where we continue to face former regime loyalists, criminals and foreign terrorists who are trying to isolate the coalition forces from the Iraqi people and break the will of the international community," Sanchez said at a heavily guarded news conference in the Iraqi capital. He added, "They will fail."

In Washington, President George W. Bush also underlined America's determination and said coalition forces were adapting to the changing face of their adversaries. He said resistance would be overcome thanks in part to increasing reliance on Iraqis to police and protect their own country. (Page 4)

Sanchez, the commander of the 130,000 American troops here, was blunt in addressing the scale of the problem posed by the Iraqi attackers, who faded away as American troops overran the country in April, only to regroup during the summer and autumn and mount what has increasingly taken on the guise of an orchestrated guerrilla campaign.

Dispensing with euphemisms favored by many officials in the Bush administration in recent months, he described the challenge now confronting American troops as a war. The general said the powerful rocket attack Oct. 26 on the Rashid hotel in central Baghdad, which serves as a billet for many senior American military and civilian officials, was intended to "weaken the will of the coalition forces" and cause the United States to "walk away from the problem" posed by the occupation of Iraq. He continued, "It's not going to happen. We are not walking away, we are not faltering, we are going to win this battle, and this war."

Aides to the general said the choice of the word war was deliberate, and part of a conscious effort to inject new realism into policy debates in Washington that are wrestling with developments in Iraq. In a fresh signal of the intensity of those discussions, American officials disclosed after the news conference that the chief American administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer 3rd, had left Baghdad abruptly for talks in Washington, canceling at short notice a scheduled meeting Tuesday with the visiting Polish prime minister, Leszek Miller, whose nation has committed more than 1,000 troops to coalition forces in southern Iraq.

Sanchez painted a stark picture of the increasing attacks on American forces, saying they had increased from an average of six a day when he took command here five months ago, to a figure in "the teens" 60 days ago, to between 30 and 35 a day in the last 30 days. He predicted that the attacks would increase further before the intensifying American military campaign begins to rein them in, an outcome that he said repeatedly was not in doubt. "The enemy has increasingly embraced terrorist acts designed to intimidate the Iraqi people, and just as importantly to create a picture of chaos," he said. But, he added, "the stark reality is that they cannot defeat us, and they know it. I am supremely confident of this reality."

At another point, he responded brusquely to a reporter's question that cited concerns among some in Europe and the United States that Iraq was turning into a new Vietnam.

"It's not Vietnam, and there's no way you can make a comparison to the quagmire of Vietnam," the general said. Among his reasons, he cited the fact that there is "no alternative political structure" in Iraq similar to the one that took power immediately after Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces captured Saigon in 1975.

Also, he said, it was absurd to suggest that Iraqis were prepared to "go back to a repressive regime" of the kind headed for nearly 24 years by Saddam.