12th August 17:51
Iraqis Deny al-Qaida Fighting U.S. Troops
Iraqis Deny al-Qaida Fighting U.S. Troops
Tuesday August 5, 2003 7:09 AM
By SCHEHEREZADE FARAMARZI
Associated Press Writer
RAMADI, Iraq (AP) - Senior American political and military officials are
sending a message that violence against U.S. soldiers in Iraq is
increasingly the work of foreign fighters - by implication, Osama bin
Laden's al-Qaida network - but Iraqis and American officers on the
ground say the evidence is stronger that Saddam Hussein loyalists are
behind most attacks.
The U.S. officers blamed the persistent resistance on disgruntled Iraqis
or officials of Saddam's Baath Party who lost out when his regime
crumbled. Iraqis say American heavy-handedness in conducting searches
and making arrests were recruiting local people to the insurgency.
Still, a drumbeat of comments by officials of President Bush's
administration depict the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq as part of the
larger war on terrorism and seek to turn the focus away from the threat
of Saddam's still unfound weapons to mass destruction.
In the past week, the Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint
Chiefs of Staff; Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. ground
forces in Iraq; and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz all have
made statements suggesting foreign terrorists were an increasing problem
for American forces.
``Iraq now is the central battle in the war on terrorism,'' Wolfowitz -
one of the administration's leading hawks - declared on Fox television.
Sanchez spoke of foreign fighters infiltrating the country, and Myers
said U.S. officials were getting good intelligence in Iraq on al-Qaida
However, their statements offered no figures on the number of
infiltrators from elsewhere in the Arab or Muslim world, and U.S.
authorities have yet to put any captured foreign fighters on display.
In Anbar Province west of Baghdad, a hotbed of resistance to the U.S.
occupation, army spokesman Capt. Mike Calver said intelligence suggested
``ex-regime (figures) and loyalists, who have a lot of weapons and
information, are paying young men'' to carry out the attacks on Americans .
``We think Saddam Fedayeen are operating in this area,'' he said,
referring to a loyalist militia. ``We suspect there are ex-regime
loyalists - people who are much disenfranchised with the loss of the
Calver said the existence or depth of foreign intervention was not
clear. ``We suspect that this may be true, but I don't think we can
quantify at this time how many attacks are carried out by al-Qaida or
Saddam loyalists,'' he said.
He added that captured resistance fighters ``are still being processed''
and that the army is ``building a profile'' on them.
A second commander in the region around Ramadi, the Anbar provincial
capital 60 miles west of Baghdad, said disgruntled residents - some of
them religious people offended by the presence of non-Muslim U.S. forces
- and former Baath Party members were behind the attacks on Americans.
``There are different pictures on each level, different elements
function in different places,'' said Lt. Col. Henry Kievernaar commander
of the 3rd Squadron of Third Armored Cavalry.
``I am not sure if it's a real organized resistance. It's individual,''
Dozens of Iraqis interviewed in the region - many of whom said they had
links to the resistance - insisted none of the attacks on Americans was
the work of foreigners. They said that most of the 4,000 to 6,000 Arab
fighters who flooded into the country before the war began have either
been killed or fled.
Those interviewed said U.S. officials wanted show the world that Iraqis
supported the American occupation and therefore were blaming foreign
fighters for the insurgency.
``They are claiming there are al-Qaida fighters in order to justify to
their people their invasion and occupation of Iraq,'' said Sheik Diyab
Younis Zo'ebi, 62, a tribal leader in Fallujah, about 18 miles east of
``We and al-Qaida are two opposite things. Bin Laden (fighters) cannot
come into Iraq ... because we will not let them. They are enemies of our
religion,'' he said.
Abdel-Karim Jabar Salman, a staff officer in Saddam's Republican Guard,
said that if the Americans had captured attackers who belong to
al-Qaida, ``Why haven't they paraded them on television?''
But even if there is no evidence of a major foreign or al-Qaida
presence, Iraq would appear to be a lure to extremists in the long run
because of the large numbers of Americans in the country and the ease of
entering the still chaotic country.
In interviews with The Associated Press in the Ramadi and Fallujah
region, men hinted at ties to the resistance but feared exposure if they
claimed outright to be part of the insurgency.
``We don't give out information about the resistance or even talk about
it because we are afraid of spies who work for the Americans,'' said
Mohammed, a 21-year-old university student.
Others, when asked if they had carried out attacks against Americans,
said they would when the time was right. The older men said the true
resistance had not yet begun.
``These are simple operations. It's the work of juveniles. But the
professionals are waiting and are ready to act with the slightest
signal,'' said Salman, the former senior officer with the Saddam's
The young men, with their university or high school exams just ended,
said they were now ready to join the resistance.
Of the scores interviewed, only Mohammed, the 21-year-old student in
Fallujah, claimed he had heard of Afghans and Syrians linked to al-Qaida
living in his town. He had not seen any of them, he said, but had been
asked by a fellow Iraqi to raise money for the fighters. He maintained
many of the town's businessmen donated money or sold weapons to the
``It's for a good cause,'' he said.