President George W. Bush chose to present a statement on terrorism in Iraq in the Rose Garden Wednesday, Sept 28. He was impressively flanked by vice president Richard Cheney and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld on one side: on the other, stood the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, commander of the global war on terror, Gen. John Abizaid and commander of US forces in Iraq Gen. George Casey.
Thus supported, the US president warned of more violence ahead for Iraq as it faced two elections; but stressed that overall US and Iraqi forces were gaining and Iraqi troops were making good progress in taking over more and more security duties.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts point to five unpublished key developments in the war US troops are waging against pro-Saddam Sunni guerrilla forces and al Qaeda.
1. Abu Musab al Zarqawi's al Qaeda fighters have virtually discontinued their attacks on US soldiers. When American forces approach towns or positions held by Zarqawi’s men, such as Dulaym al-Husayba, Karabila or Sada in Western Iraq, the terrorists fire scattered warning shots to drive the Americans off, but refrain from attacking them. If US troops nonetheless advance, Zarqawi’s men melt away without engaging them or even planting ambushes.
This pattern of non-combat has been noted in a number of places in Iraq.
2. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources reveal that US forces have launched hit-and-run forays on the Syrian side of the Iraqi border to ambush incoming foreign fighters before they reach Iraq. These strikes focus on Syria’s Abu Kemal region opposite Iraq’s al Qaim, which is al Qaeda’s main route into Iraq; and the banks of the Euphrates River at the point where it flows in from Syria. US military raids are also being launched from around the northern Iraq towns of Mosul and Sinjar which are near the Syrian border.
These incursions, never longer than 12-24 hours, have effectively cut down the incoming terrorist traffic. Here too, al Qaeda fighters draw back from engaging the Americans in battle. They fall back deeper into Syria instead.
Insurgents and al Qaeda refrain from attacking US troops
3. Some of the Iraqi Sunni guerrilla groups have followed al Qaeda’s lead and stopped attacking American soldiers.
4. Instead, both the Iraqi insurgents and al Qaeda operatives are concentrating their fire on Iraqi targets – Shiite Muslims, government institutions, members of parliament and members of Iraqi military and security arms.
5. All the same, as attacks on American targets persisted, US commanders began asking who, if not Iraqi insurgents, were mounting the assaults. US intelligence officers put the question when they interrogated captured guerilla fighters. The answer was surprising. Iraqi fighters admitted, according to our sources, that Iranian intelligence agents posted undercover in Iraq had paid them to attack American troops. The agents had approached them with sizeable sums of cash and a list of US targets. Some Iraqi Sunni groups were finding that it paid handsomely to act as contract killers for Iranian intelligence.
There was only one conclusion to be drawn. Tehran has changed its strategy.
For three years, the Islamic Republic made every effort to hold the intelligence and military units which had been planted across Iraq from staging military operations against US units.
This has now changed. Iran is using Iraqi Sunnis to strike Americans.
This development was at the center of the White House consultation President Bush held Wednesday with the vice president, the secretary of defense and his top generals. Rumsfeld and the army chiefs reported their reading of the situation:
The Iranians do not appear to be seeking an all-out conformation with the American army in Iraq, but are rather reacting to local US operations. They appear to have hired the Sunni guerillas at the same time as US forces began embarking on forays across the border into Syria. It would seem that Iran is implementing its obligations under its mutual defense treaty with Syria.
The constitution faces defeat in referendum
The US military chiefs also reported to the president that the attacks on US soldiers are confined to Sunni regions of Iraq, never spilling over into Shiite areas. This is taken to mean that Tehran is bent on harassment in reprisal for US actions, but not the disruption of life in the Shiite areas.
Iraqi sources interviewed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly wondered out loud why the Americans were keeping the low-level Iranian assaults under wraps instead of using publicity as a form of pressure to hold Tehran’s hand.
Officials in Washington and Baghdad are getting worried about the coming referendum, fearing the new constitution faces a polling defeat.
US military commanders in Iraq report the Shiites are turning against the new charter no less than the Sunnis because of the campaign radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr is waging against it. He has ordered his following to vote it down. Since he commands twice as many adherents as each of the ruling Shiite parties – SCIRI and prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari’s Dawa – Sadr believes it is in his power to tip the scales against the charter in three constituencies of southern Iraq.
The anti-constitution Sunnis command at least two-thirds of the electorate in the al Anbar, Salhedin and Nineveh provinces north of Baghdad.
Between the Shiites and the Sunnis, the painfully constructed constitution has little chance of surviving the referendum – even if the ballot is not disrupted by violence. The task of writing a new charter would then fall to the parliament and government rising after the December, 2005, national election. It would be up to them to set up a new mechanism for producing another draft for another referendum.