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Iraqis learn to be more lethal

As six soldiers are killed in a weekend, U.S. officers say the rebels are adopting more effective tactics and weapons.

By wire services
Published March 15, 2004

BAGHDAD - Insurgent bombmakers, whose roadside explosives claimed the lives of six more American soldiers this weekend, have adopted new and grimly devious tactics, military officers said Sunday.

The tactics include setting multiple charges along convoy routes, disguising bombs inside animal carcasses and planting hollow artillery shells to draw troops into an ambush, they said. One American soldier was killed early Sunday when his convoy west of Baghdad was blasted by a roadside explosive. Three soldiers died late Saturday when their patrol in southeast Baghdad also fell victim to a homemade bomb.

Those deaths, announced by a military spokesman on Sunday, followed an attack on Saturday with an improvised explosive device and small-arms fire in Tikrit that left two soldiers dead.

According to Pentagon reports, 47 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq in January, slightly more than the 40 recorded in December, but far less than the 82 deaths recorded in November. The figure fell to 20 deaths in February.

In the first 14 days of March, however, 15 U.S. service personnel were killed, as well as two American civilians working for the U.S.-led occupation authority who were apparently chased near Karbala and killed by a group that included several Iraqi police.

Explaining the spike in deaths this weekend from improvised explosive devices, military officers in Iraq described vast improvements in the lethality and effectiveness of those weapons over recent weeks.

Early in the insurgency, the handcrafted bombs tended to be bulky weapons, usually discarded artillery shells wired with a detonator and wired to a garage door opener or doorbell. Attackers laboriously buried or hid the homemade bombs along roadways between midnight and dawn.

As ground patrols and surveillance planes put the pressure on this labor-intensive strategy of concealing booby traps, the insurgents learned to create smaller bombs that could be planted quickly, military officers said.

Insurgents have also adopted a tactic of planting empty shell casings and wiring in an obvious spot to draw the attention of American forces, a military officer in Baghdad said. Those fake explosives appear intended to waste the time of explosive-disposal squads or to draw soldiers into an ambush of small-arms fire.

Insurgent foot soldiers are also laying the bombs on both sides of convoy routes, instead of one as in the past, and new designs include the wiring of multiple explosives in a daisy chain to explode in several places, several yards apart, along the routes, military officers said.

Technological improvements have been noted, as the improvised explosive devices are being detonated from greater distances.

While more improvised explosives are being detected than are not, those bombs remain the leading cause of American casualties to hostile fire since the end of major combat operations May 1.

For now, commanders are keeping up the pace of ground patrols while Air Force surveillance planes remain alert for explosives and those planting them.

A valuable tool in the battle has turned out to be a Navy airplane designed for antisubmarine warfare and maritime surveillance.

The Navy P-3 aircraft and its British counterpart patrol convoy routes looking for bombs or unusual activity of individuals who might be planting them. Their sensors detected 15 of the explosive devices in recent weeks, air commanders reported.

The American authorities have determined that the improvised explosives are being planned, built and planted by a fairly sophisticated network.

Officials in Washington say the network includes leaders; the bomb builders, some apparently trained in techniques used by the Shiite group Hezbollah in Lebanon; recruiters; and those who plant the bombs.

To counter the threat, the military created the IED Task Force, with about 20 members drawn from all of the armed services, including experts in weapons, tactics, forensics and engineering. Team members are sent to bombing scenes to analyze the weapons and relay information quickly to the military.

Officials defend war

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Sunday stood by prewar assertions that Iraq posed an "imminent threat" to the United States despite assertions by the administration's CIA director and its top Iraq weapons tracker that no weapons of mass destruction appear to have existed.

"We all believed that it is an urgent threat, and I believe to this day that it was an urgent threat," Rice said on NBC's Meet the Press. "And we are safer as a result, because today Iraq is no longer going to be a state of weapons of mass destruction concern."

Rumsfeld said weapons might still be found.

"It's a country the size of California," Rumsfeld said on CBS's Face the Nation program. "He could have hidden ... enough biological weapons in the hole that we found Saddam Hussein in to kill tens of thousands of people. So it's not as though we have certainty today."

Asked on CNN's Late Edition if the war was worth the lives of the 564 U.S. soldiers killed, Rumsfeld said, "Oh, my goodness, yes. There's just no question ... 25-million people in Iraq are free."

- Information from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Associated Press was used in this report.

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