General: al-Qaida growing stronger in Iraq

Al-Qaida is strengthening its position in Iraq, the top US general in Baghdad has said.

    Sanchez commands US ground forces in Iraq

    Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of the US-led occupation's

    ground forces in Iraq, was speaking after the

    capture of Pakistani al-Qaida suspect 

    Hasan Guhl.

    "For months I've been saying that al-Qaida fingerprints have

    been here in Iraq. The capture of Guhl is pretty strong proof that a

    l-Qaida is trying to gain a foothold here to continue its murderous


    "The capture is great news for both Iraqis, the coalition and

    for the international community's war against terror," Sanchez


    Guhl was captured last Thursday near northern Iraq's border with



    September 11

    US officials believe he has 


    in the past with captured al-Qaida leader Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, and

    had connections to people involved in the bombings of US embassies

    in east Africa.

    US soldiers come under daily
    attack in Iraq

    Sanchez said the al-Qaida presence in Iraq dated back at least

    as far as a 12 November truck bombing in the southern city of

    Nasiriyah that killed 28 people, including 19 Italian soldiers.

    He said the organisation, blamed by the US for the September 11


    attacks, was adapting to the Iraqi environment

    and joining forces with elements from the former regime of Saddam


    Sanchez has previously said fighters trained and financed by a

    l-Qaida were trickling into Iraq from Syria to aid the resistance to the US occupation


    Resistance attacks

    "Foreign fighters continue to come into the country, but they

    are coming in small numbers," he said in an interview earlier this


    He said foreigners were "the ones that are driving the

    politically-born improvised explosive devices for the most part".

    The US often blames resistance attacks against occupation targets on Saddam loyalists or al-Qaida fighters.

    However, some analysts believe this is a convienient way of hiding the fact that the

    Iraqi resistance is

     widely supported by the local population.



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