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Is resistance Iraqi or foreign? No one's sure

By Associated Press
Published February 16, 2004

BAGHDAD - The capture of dozens of guerrilla leaders has left the U.S. military with a murky picture of a shadowy resistance, with American and Iraqi officials divided about whether Iraqis or foreign fighters are responsible for recent attacks.

Arrests that include the capture of Saddam Hussein have broken rebel command networks and forced fighters underground, the Associated Press reported, quoting an unnamed top military official. Yet attacks persist, crowned by a bold daylight assault Saturday on security compounds in Fallujah that freed 87 prisoners and killed 25 people, mostly police.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have begun focusing on foreign fighters, especially al-Qaida-linked operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian blamed for a series of devastating car bombs that U.S. officials say were aimed at fomenting civil war.

U.S. officials in Baghdad and Washington say a handful of Iraqi rebel groups remain active, including:

Muntada al-Wilaya, a Shiite group that has grown less troublesome since its leader's capture.

The Return Party of former Hussein political allies.

Mohammed's Army, an umbrella group of former Iraqi intelligence and security agents.

Ansar al-Sunna Army, which claimed responsibility for the Feb. 1 bombings in the northern city of Irbil that killed 109 people.

Despite U.S. gains, rebel attacks against U.S. troops in February have increased to between 20 and 24 a day, rising from 18 per day in January.

And guerrilla assaults have grown more spectacular - and devastating for the Iraqi police, whose death toll appears to have surpassed that of the far more numerous U.S. military forces. At least 538 U.S. troops have died since the U.S. invasion began nearly 11 months ago. But some 600 Iraqi police have been killed since May, said Iyad Allawi, a member of Iraq's Governing Council.

Administrator L. Paul Bremer told ABC's This Week on Sunday that he believed foreign fighters took part in the attack Saturday on the Fallujah police station. Iraqi officials echoed this claim.

However, the AP reported that an unnamed senior U.S. military officer discounted the role of foreign fighters, saying the attack appeared to have been the work of former members of Hussein's army or Republican Guard.

The lack of clear intelligence may stem partly from the U.S. military's success. With their commanders in prison, the loose alliance of guerrilla cells has been disrupted and left leaderless, the U.S. military official in Baghdad said.

"Most commanders understood the insurgency would not fade after Saddam was captured, because all knew there were additional elements - religious extremists, terrorists, criminals, former regimists - who would continue to fight to gain their own specific form of power," said Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, a deputy commander of the 1st Armored Division.

[Last modified February 16, 2004, 01:31:39]

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