US on major drive for ex-Iraqi leaders

Using intelligence gained in part from the capture of Saddam Hussein, US forces have mounted a blitz to capture mid-level leaders of the former Iraqi regime who are believed to be key to the insurgency in Iraq.

    "We have got a lot of fighting ahead of us," says Abizaid

    "In the past 48 hours, we have had a very good haul," General John Abizaid, chief of the US Central Command, told reporters in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Wednesday. He said the leaders of several Baathist cells had been captured. 

    Abizaid's assessment of the impact of the capture on Saturday of Saddam Hussein on a farm south of his hometown of Tikrit was the most upbeat yet by a senior commander. 

    "Make no mistake: the loss of Saddam Hussein is a huge psychological blow and will pay dividends over time," said Abizaid.

    "We have got a lot of fighting ahead of us, but this is a big win for the young soldiers that made it happen, and for the young intelligence professionals that were smart enough to put the information together to lead us to the right place," he said. 

    Documents seized

    In what appears to have been a major intelligence coup, US commanders have said a trove of documents were seized in the raid

    that netted Saddam, including minutes to a meeting of resistance attacks leaders that listed by name those who attended. 

    The find shed light on a leadership network that financed and
    issued general guidance to some 14 cells operating in the Baghdad area alone, Brigadier General Martine Dempsey, the commander of the 1st Armored Division said on Tuesday. 

    "We continue to use information that we have gained from the intelligence system... some of which came from the capture of Saddam, to continue to take down those folks that are conducting attacks against the coalition," Abizaid was quoted as saying. 

    Mid-level leaders

    Abizaid said US forces were focusing on mid-level leaders of the former regime who are believed to be running the resistance attacks. 

    US officials are expecting more
    attacks by armed fighters

    Other military officials have said that many are former majors, lieutenant and colonels from the former Iraqi military and security services who have risen to prominence since the regime's collapse. 

    "From fighting this particular enemy, (we have learned that) knocking out the mid-level leadership is the key to success," Abizaid said. "If they were to take out our lieutenant colonels and colonels, we would have trouble, too. That is what we are doing to them." 

    Abizaid added coalition forces captured several mid-level Baathists who were leading cells in areas where previously there had not been a clear picture of the enemy. 

    "We have a full-court press on, understanding the environment better and connecting the various pieces of information we have from various sources," he said. 

    More violence

    US commanders and senior Pentagon officials have emphasized they expect more violence ahead. 

    "We have a full-court press on, understanding the environment better and connecting the various pieces of information we have from various sources"

    General John Abizaid, chief of the US Central Command

    On Wednesday, a tanker truck blew up at a busy crossroads in Baghdad, killing 10 Iraqis. Another Iraqi was killed by a roadside bomb meant for US troops in the Iraqi capital. 

    But Abizaid said he did not believe that the fighters had broad public support and US tactics were showing signs of isolating the attackers from sources of funding "because we are starting to understand where money is starting to come from. 

    "Most importantly," he said, "you have to isolate the enemy from ever gaining a source of support from the population at large, which I believe they don't have," he said.



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