Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New US Priority: Finding Hussein ; as Opposition in Iraq Rallies around the Symbol of the Former Ruler, US Attempts to Calm Region Are Being Stifled

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New US Priority: Finding Hussein ; as Opposition in Iraq Rallies around the Symbol of the Former Ruler, US Attempts to Calm Region Are Being Stifled

Article excerpt

It may be hard to believe, but it's perhaps becoming more important than ever that US forces find Saddam Hussein, or incontrovertible evidence of his death.

As attacks on US troops in Baghdad mount officials in Washington are increasingly worried that Hussein has become a symbol used by remnants of his regime to rally their supporters.

Fear that Hussein may be coming back could now be intimidating Iraqis otherwise sympathetic to US goals. Baath Party elements have already expanded their targets to include police cadets, utility officials, and others deemed too close to American civilian administrators.

US officials are now going so far as to flatly state that if Hussein remains alive he will be found and brought to justice. That marks a toughening of official rhetoric - in the past, most in Washington said their target was a regime, not a person.

"Finding the leadership element, which was what the whole war was about . . . is still the key to the postwar phase," says retired Brig. Gen. John Reppert, an expert on military strategy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Administration officials continue to insist that the resistance encountered by US troops in Iraq is not the work of a nationally organized force.

A disparate array of groups are likely the source of the violence, they say. These include Baath Party political loyalists, Fedayeen Saddam guerrilla groups, and international terrorists.

Some of these terrorists "have connections to Iran," said L. Paul Bremer, the top US administrator in Iraq, in a Baghdad briefing July 1. "Some have connections to Al Qaeda. Some are from other countries in the region."

Whatever their source, the attacks have begun to take a steady toll of casualties.

At time of writing on Monday, three American soldiers had been killed over the previous 24 hours.

Early Sunday one GI was shot point-blank as he walked through Baghdad University, whose southern Baghdad campus had been considered a relatively safe area.

Then on Monday gunmen ambushed a US platoon in northern Baghdad's Adhamiyah neighborhood, killing one. Later a homemade bomb tossed at a US convoy in roughly the same area of the city killed another American service member. Also on Monday, in the town of Ramadi, 60 miles west of Iraq's capital, someone fired a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) at another US convoy. Four were wounded.

Whether these attacks are directed by some central authority or not, they have the effect of undermining American authority, says military expert and retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner.

The rapid American invasion of Iraq and the quick ascension of US power in Baghdad created an aura of overwhelming strength. Perhaps inevitably, that aura has now been tarnished.

"A small number of attacks showed that the Americans were vulnerable," says Gardiner. …

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