Iraqi insurgency is waning, general says
BAGHDAD, Iraq — The ongoing insurgency against the coalition is being diminished in Baghdad despite recent high-profile attacks that tend to leave the opposite impression, a general with the 1st Armored Division told reporters Friday afternoon.
“We think the insurgency is waning,” said Brig. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, the assistant division commander for support. “The ones who continue to fight are losing their support.”
The general spoke with reporters at Freedom Rest, the division’s rest and recreation hotel in Baghdad.
Also, a senior military official said the U.S. military believes 500 to 1,000 people are suspected to be behind the attacks in the Iraqi capital city.
Hertling said the impression left by the media in the minds of Americans is that the situation is worsening or, at least, not improving in the city.
That’s the purpose of attacks such as those two weeks ago at the International Committee for the Red Cross and, on the same day, four Iraqi police stations.
It is also why the coalition compound and the Al Rashid Hotel have been targeted in recent days, Hertling said. They are high-profile targets that generate lots of news coverage.
“The majority of our soldiers feel we are making progress every day and we are beyond the hardest part,” Hertling said.
The general did not want to discuss the rest of Iraq, but he did acknowledge that Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad, is a much more difficult situation for the 82nd Airborne Division. He said a large portion of the population there wants the Americans to fail in the effort to install a democratic form of government in Iraq.
People cheered the downing of a Chinook helicopter near there last Sunday that killed 16 soldiers. And as the general spoke, the Army was dealing with the crash of a Black Hawk helicopter near Tikrit, possibly the victim of a hostile action.
If hostile action was the cause, it will be the third helicopter shot down in two weeks. Another Black Hawk was downed by hostile fire on Oct. 25.
In recent days, soldiers have been killed in Tikrit, Mosul and other places. The death toll for U.S. troops in Iraq reached 34 in the past seven days, the highest weekly total since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1.
Some officials have said the sophistication of the attacks seems to be increasing.
But Hertling said the recent attacks in Baghdad are amateurish.
“This is not an efficient, effective enemy,” he said.
If it were, he said, the mortar rounds and rockets being fired in Baghdad would do more damage. And, he said, the car bombs directed against police stations two weeks ago would have been more effective. One bomb did not go off because the wire dislodged from the car battery.
He did acknowledge that the device used to remotely fire rockets at the Al Rashid Hotel two weeks ago was “a clever instrument.”
Hertling said the vast majority of Iraqis living in Baghdad are turning against the enemy. Following the blasts at the ICRC and the police stations, the military was swamped with tips from citizens about people who sought to harm the coalition.
“I absolutely think it backfired on them,” the general said of the attacks. “The Iraqi Baghdad population is tired of others disrupting their peace.”
The 1st Armored Division operates out of 27 bases throughout the city, he said. By May, they hope to have condensed their effort to five bases outside the city limits.
Before the general met with reporters, a senior military official explained how the effort is being measured. He said the city is divided into 88 zones and each is labeled green, amber or red, depending on the number of incidents. Normally, between eight and 12 are labeled red, he said, and a handful is amber, leaving 70 or more as green.
The official also quantified the size of the force that is actively operating in Baghdad. He said the U.S. military believes the enemy force in Baghdad is between 500 and 1,000, including “former regime power brokers” who want to return to power, foreign fighters and 200 or so who are “disenfranchised.”
“These are criminals ... who just want to make a buck,” he said of the final group. He said they operate in about 15 to 20 cells and sometimes join forces in a “marriage of convenience.”
“We’re going after these guys,” he said. “We’re targeting them with precise intelligence.”
He said about 90 percent of the intelligence gathered by the coalition pays off.
The official said the coalition is also keeping its eyes on a handful of mosques — about 20 out of 1,600 in the city — where an anti-coalition, anti-American message is being preached every Friday.
Hertling said the coalition is detaining the enemy and confiscating massive amounts of weapons.