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Saddam isn’t masterminding attacks, Abizaid says

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  • Saddam isn’t masterminding attacks, Abizaid says

    Central Command chief says ousted leader is ‘incompetent’

    By Vince Crawley
    Times staff writer

    Guerrilla fighters relentlessly killing U.S. troops number no more than 5,000, can’t win a military victory and definitely aren’t masterminded by Saddam Hussein, a top general says.
    “I think Saddam Hussein is one of the most incompetent military leaders in the history of the world,” Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, told reporters Nov. 13. “And to give him any credit, to think that somehow or other he planned this, is absolutely beyond my comprehension.”

    Iraqi insurgents conducted 30 or more attacks a day against U.S. troops and other international forces, killing dozens of people in the first two weeks of November.

    In response, Central Command on Nov. 12 launched a massive counter-insurgency operation, including airstrikes and high-profile raids against suspected guerrilla hideouts.

    Abizaid acknowledged his troops must use caution to avoid driving more Iraqis into the enemy camp.

    “There is a great balance that must be applied to military operations in Iraq,” he said.

    The most dangerous fighters attacking Americans are Saddam loyalists using roadside bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and, occasionally, small-arms fire, Abizaid said.

    Other fighters include religious or political extremists, “a large number of criminals” and “angry young men” hired to attack U.S. forces and “a small yet important and well-organized group of foreign fighters,” Abizaid said.

    “In all, I would say that the force of people actively armed and operating against us does not exceed 5,000,” Abizaid said.

    Though small in numbers, he added, “they have a brutal and determined cadre” with “access to a lot of money and a lot of ammunition.”

    While they can’t defeat well-trained, well-armed U.S. forces, Abizaid said his adversaries’ goal is to divide the U.S.-led coalition and make political leaders doubt the certainty of victory.

    “The goal of the enemy is to break the will of the United States of America,” Abizaid said. “It’s clear, it’s simple, it’s straightforward ... and they won’t succeed.”

    The U.S. goal, he said, is also straightforward. “What we are trying to achieve is to allow moderation to grow up in an area that is not necessarily noted for moderation,” he said.

    Saddam may be a less-than-competent leader in Abizaid’s view, but the general, who speaks Arabic, said he believes the former dictator is “alive and moving around Iraq” and that U.S. troops are doggedly sifting through intelligence in an effort to find him.

    Attacks against international forces and relief agencies have “some level of coordination that’s taken place at very high levels, although I’m not so sure I’d say that there’s a national-level resistance leadership,” he said. “Not yet. It could develop, but I don’t believe it’s there yet.”

    This coordination, he said, appears designed “to spread chaos … to make people believe that nowhere is safe in Iraq.”

    In an effort to get a better grip on the situation, Congress in the 2004 defense authorization bill ordered the Pentagon to submit two reports on Iraq by early next year.

    The first, due March 31, would outline the military assessment of the first phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, which ended May 1.

    The second requires Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to describe ongoing security and reconstruction activities in Iraq. The report would be due 90 days after the authorization bill is signed into law.

    Lawmakers instruct Rumsfeld to provide an assessment of “the scope of the ongoing needed commitment of United States military forces” and “the effect the United States military presence in Iraq will have on replacement and unit-rotation policies, including the overall effect on global United States military deployments.”

    More than 130,000 U.S. troops are serving in Iraq, and the recent attacks have prompted some nations to rethink their commitments to the mission.

    Japan has put off a diplomatically significant deployment until next year, and South Korea limited its offer of peacekeepers to no more than 3,000.

    Unable to persuade foreign governments to deploy troops in large numbers, the United States instead is pursuing a plan to train ever-growing numbers of Iraqis to handle their nation’s security.