U.S. sees a tactical shift as attacks on Iraqis rise

Posted in Iraq | 08-Dec-03 | Author: Joel Brinkley| Source: International Herald Tribune

BAGHDAD - Far fewer Americans have been killed in guerrilla attacks in recent days, and instead the insurgents are killing other Iraqis, L. Paul Bremer 3rd, the American administrator here, said Tuesday at a news conference.

"The security situation has changed," Bremer said. "They have failed to intimidate the coalition. They have now begun a pattern of trying to intimidate innocent Iraqis."

This month, American forces have suffered heavy casualties. Sixteen servicemen died early in the month when their Chinook helicopter was shot down. Then on Nov. 15, two Black Hawk helicopters collided over the northern city of Mosul, killing 17 servicemen. The cause of that crash is under investigation; officials say it is possible that it was an accident.

Two soldiers were shot to death in Mosul on Sunday. Still, in recent days the number of attacks on military targets and subsequent deaths have declined, though the military did not provide precise figures. No soldiers were reported killed Monday or Tuesday.

"In the past two weeks, the attacks have gone down, attacks against coalition forces," said General John Abizaid, who heads the army's Central Command, "but unfortunately we find that attacks on Iraqis have increased."

He attended the news conference with Bremer and said attacks against American targets had fallen by half since early in the month.

Late Tuesday, residents reported what appeared to be a mortar attack in central Baghdad. Early reports indicated that no one had been killed.

It was the third such attack in recent weeks, and no fatalities have been reported from any of them.

As Bremer noted, fatal attacks against police officers, mayors, city council members and other Iraqis who are perceived to be working with the occupation authorities are becoming more frequent.

In Mosul on Sunday, a senior Iraqi police official, Abdul-Salam Qanbar, was shot and killed as he walked to a mosque with his young son, the military said.

Dozens of policemen have been killed in bombings in recent weeks, including 14 who died in the town of Khan Bani Saad on Saturday.

"They use ambulances," General Abizaid said. "They use different types of methods to get in and kill innocent women and children and members of the security forces. And they have no vision for the future, except just like it was before, just kill people, just intimidate them, and just to bring fear and come back to power. We won't let that happen."

Late last week, Human Rights Watch offered the view that guerrillas attacking Iraqi civilians were guilty of war crimes.

Military officials credit the decline in attacks on their forces to improved intelligence and awareness - and to their new assertive policy of striking back with heavy firepower when coalition forces are attacked. On Monday night, soldiers from the 1st Armored Division killed three Iraqis while they were trying to plant a bomb beside a road in Fallauja, the military reported Tuesday.

Attacks against aid groups have virtually stopped because danger has prompted most of the groups to leave Iraq.

On Tuesday, the aid group CARE Australia announced that it was leaving the country after a grenade attack on its headquarters and a death threat, a CARE official said.

Bremer called the switch to attacking civilians "a repugnant but not unexpected tactic."

Video shows attack on plane

A videotape given to a French journalist shows a man firing a surface-to-air missile at a DHL cargo plane, The Associated Press reported from Baghdad.

The tape appeared to record an insurgent operation Saturday in which a missile struck the wing of a DHL cargo plane, forcing the aircraft to make an emergency landing at Baghdad's airport. It was the first time insurgents struck a civilian plane in Iraq. The U.S. military said there had been no injuries to the three-member crew.

No statement accompanied the tape, which was given to Sara Daniel, a journalist with the Paris-based magazine Le Nouvel Observateur. Daniel distributed the tape to other news organizations.

The videotape showed about a dozen men standing in an open field, several of them wearing checkered headscarves over their faces. A Black Hawk helicopter flew nearby at an altitude of about 350 feet, but appeared not to spot the men. Three cars were parked nearby.

One of the men raised a shoulder-launched missile, whose type could not be determined. The gunner aimed and launched the missile at an unseen target. Trailing white smoke, the missile initially climbed almost vertically, then executed a sharp right turn as it gathered speed.

The tape continued to roll, but showed the men scrambling to their cars. After a time, the camera was again pointed to the sky as the stricken airliner, trailing flames and smoke, descended toward the airport. No impact was shown.