Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Sees Tide Turn on Iraq Insurgents ; Violence Is Down in the Tikrit Region, the Heartland of the Insurgency. Yet Further South a Bomb Killed 13 on Saturday

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Sees Tide Turn on Iraq Insurgents ; Violence Is Down in the Tikrit Region, the Heartland of the Insurgency. Yet Further South a Bomb Killed 13 on Saturday

Article excerpt

Surveying Tikrit from their compound on a bluff high above the Tigris River, a short distance from where Saddam Hussein was captured two weeks ago, America's military commanders are convinced they've finally turned the corner against the insurgency in the former dictator's home base.

Attacks on soldiers have dropped steeply in the Tikrit area over the past month. After more than six months of intensive raids, foot patrols, and intelligence gathering, commanders believe they have tapped into the rhythm of the insurgency. "We're making steady, [unstoppable] progress,'' says Lt. Col. Steve Russell, who commands the 1st Battalion of the 22nd Infantry.

Yet despite recent successes in Tikrit, the war being fought is not the kind to be won with a single, crushing blow. The picture pieced together by troops and intelligence officers across Iraq is one of a fractured, decentralized insurgency. There is no single Professor Moriarty masterminding the violence against coalition troops - and so no silver bullet.

That was brought home on Saturday by three massive, near- simultaneous bomb blasts at coalition bases and the governor's office that injured more than 170 in the Shiite holy city of Karbala. Six coalition soldiers - four Bulgarians and two Thais - six Iraqi policemen, and an Iraqi bystander were killed. During Christmas week, 10 American soldiers were killed in incidents across Iraq. Also on Saturday, a roadside explosion killed a US soldier and two Iraqi children in Baghdad.

On a low-key Christmas Day, during which most Christians stayed home, a series of mortars landed harmlessly inside the coalition's sprawling, gated "green zone" campus in Baghdad, and sirens warning coalition officials wailed through the city, reminding Baghdadis that life is nowhere near returning to normal.

Many coalition officials suspect that some attacks are being carried out by Islamist terrorists whose ties to the former regime are limited. In the Tikrit area, where the insurgency is most clearly linked to people who prospered under Hussein, there have been no suicide car bombs, a tactic that usually indicates a strong religious ideological motivation.

And though attacks on coalition forces have fallen across the country, to about 15 a day from more than 30 a day in early November, Iraqis are still wary of violence. "We feel like we're in a ring of fire,'' says Abu Junaidi, a security guard at an apartment building that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade last week. "We're no closer to peace."

To be sure, the methods used in Tikrit may yield fruit in other parts of the country. In Tikrit, US forces have been able to hopscotch from one captured insurgent to the next as Hussein loyalists have cracked under interrogation, a painstaking process that led to key Hussein aides and less well-known financiers who were using local businesses around Tikrit as fronts for attacks on US forces. …

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