Saddam Loyalists Take Aim from Cover of Civilian Crowds

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Saddam Loyalists Take Aim from Cover of Civilian Crowds


Byline: Rowan Scarborough and Guy Taylor, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Saddam Hussein's last remaining loyalists are using a trick they employed in the war by mingling with civilian crowds and firing on American forces trying to stabilize Iraq, U.S. military officials say.

Since the fall of Baghdad on April 9, the tactic has been used sporadically, mostly in Sunni Muslim-dominated towns such as Kut, Mosul and Fallujah west of the capital.

It was in the conservative Islamic town of Fallujah this week that 82nd Airborne Division soldiers ran up against one of the largest collection of armed Saddam loyalists. As townsfolk protested outside U.S. headquarters in an Islamic school, paramilitaries armed with AK-47s fired from within the crowd and from rooftops.

"We have seen this before where crowds gather," said Air Force Lt. Col. Ed Worley, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command forward headquarters in Doha, Qatar. "You look at the crowd, and all of a sudden they start shooting."These are folks who are loyal to the regime for whatever reason," Col. Worley said. "There are still folks out there. It seems that every time we get involved in one of these firefights like the ones we got involved with in Fallujah, when we get a chance to see them they are dressed like paramilitary folks."

Other U.S. military officials say the paramilitaries are remnants of several different Saddam groups. They include the dictator's fanatical Saddam Fedayeen death squads, as well as former Republican Guard fighters and special security officers.

A U.S. intelligence official said yesterday that most of the Fedayeen forces who menaced coalition troops in the war have either been killed or fled the battlefield.

Of the remaining Saddam loyalists, the official said, "You're not talking about any kind of coherent, organized fighting element. You're basically talking about ragtag elements."

Col. Worley said 82nd Airborne troops did not capture any of the assailants at Fallujah, so they do not know what type of paramilitaries were involved.

Central Command has reported at least 11 separate incidents of Iraqis firing on American troops during the past three days. One occurred in the southern Rumeila oil fields. The other 10 broke out further north, in Baghdad, Tikrit - which is Saddam's hometown - Fallujah and Kut.

President Bush today will address the nation from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. He is expected to declare an end to major combat operations in Iraq, as U.S. representatives work to establish an interim Iraqi government.

The military's main combat task now is to root out nests of paramilitaries and defend U.S. troops. Central Command issued a statement this week warning that Iraq remains a dangerous place.

"Coalition efforts to defeat regime pockets of resistance in Iraq are proving successful, but incidents directed against coalition forces are evidence that despite the significant decrease in active military operations, dangers are still evident," the statement said.

The United States does not discuss in detail its rules of engagement for confronting fighters that blend in with civilians. But in general terms, soldiers and Marines are told to hold fire if possible and withdraw, or to try to isolate the paramilitaries before firing. Often airborne surveillance is used to spot muzzle fire.

"Coalition forces will continue to use the appropriate amount of force to defend themselves against such threats," Central Command said. …

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