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In the Bush administration’s latest breach of the Geneva Convention, US forces in IRAQ are now kidnapping the wives and families of suspected Ba’ath party collaborators and holding them hostage to force those Ba’athists to turn themselves in.

Sometimes I can’t believe what I read..



BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 28 —  Over the past six weeks a small but intense war has been conducted in the mud-hut villages and lush palm groves along the Tigris River valley, fought with far different methods than those used in the campaign that toppled President Saddam Hussein.

AS IRAQI FIGHTERS launched guerrilla strikes, the U.S. Army adopted a more nimble approach against unseen adversaries, and found new ways to gather intelligence about them, according to dozens of soldiers and officers interviewed over the last week.        Thousands of suspected Iraqi fighters were detained over the six-week period, many temporarily, in hundreds of U.S. military raids, most of them conducted in the dead of night. In the expansive region north of Baghdad patrolled by the 4th Infantry Division, more than 300 Iraqi fighters were killed in combat operation, the military officials said. In the same period, U.S. forces in all of Iraq have suffered 39 combat deaths. The continuing casualties — such as the four soldiers killed Saturday — are the direct result of the intensified U.S. offensive, the military officials added.        Despite their losses, Army officers and soldiers asserted that they are making solid gains in this region, where most of the fighting has taken place and where about half the 150,000 U.S. troops in the country are posted.        At the beginning of June, before the U.S. offensives began, the reward for killing an American soldier was about $300, an Army officer said. Now, he said, street youths are being offered as much as $5,000 — and are being told that if they refuse, their families will be killed, a development the officer described as a sign of reluctance among once-eager youths to take part in the strikes.

       At the same time, the frequency of attacks has declined in the area northwest of Baghdad dominated by Iraq’s Sunni minority, long a base of support for Hussein. In this triangle-shaped region — delineated by Baghdad, Tikrit to the north and the towns of Fallujah and Ramadi to the west — attacks on U.S. forces have dropped by half since mid-June, military officers reported.        That decrease is leading senior commanders here to debate whether the war is nearly over. Some say the resistance by members of Hussein’s Baath Party is nearly broken. But other senior officers are bracing for a new phase in which they fear that Baathist die-hards, with no alternative left, will shift from attacking the U.S. military to bombing American civilians and Iraqis who work with them.        In addition, there is general agreement among Army leaders here that in recent weeks both the quality and quantity of intelligence being offered by Iraqis has greatly improved, leading to such operations as the one last Tuesday in Mosul that killed Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay.        Col. David Hogg, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division, said tougher methods are being used to gather the intelligence. On Wednesday night, he said, his troops picked up the wife and daughter of an Iraqi lieutenant general. They left a note: “If you want your family released, turn yourself in.” Such tactics are justified, he said, because, “It’s an intelligence operation with detainees, and these people have info.” They would have been released in due course, he added later.

       The tactic worked. On Friday, Hogg said, the lieutenant general appeared at the front gate of the U.S. base and surrendered.         THE U.S. OFFENSIVE        In the weeks after President Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq on May 1, there were growing signs of resistance in the Sunni triangle, where many former Baath Party operatives, intelligence officers, and Special Republican Guard members were still actively fighting the U.S. military.        Rocket-propelled grenade attacks on U.S. vehicles began in earnest near the end of the month. On May 30, a sophisticated three-point ambush was launched against U.S. troops patrolling in the town of Bayji, just north of Tikrit. As U.S. troops evaded one line of fire, they were attacked by the next. When troops fired back, the Iraqis continued to fight instead of running.        On June 7, a patrol of U.S. military police drove into the town of Thuluya, on a big bend in the Tigris River southeast of Tikrit. Iraqis there told them to leave, and warned that if they came back, they would be killed, said a U.S. commander. It was then that “we started to kick down doors,” recalled a senior Central Command official.        Instead of leaving, at 2 a.m. the next morning, hundreds of U.S. troops cordoned off Thuluya and hundreds more conducted searches throughout the town. F-15 fighters and Apache helicopters whirred overhead, ready to launch missiles on ground commanders’ call. U.S. military speedboats patrolled the Tigris River, cutting off an escape route. The aggressive operation set the tone for the new phase of the war.

       Since then, the Army has sought to keep up an unrelenting pace. “The reality is that in this company, we’ve been doing raids and cordon searches nearly every day” since early June, said Capt. Brian Healey, commander of an infantry company based near Baqubah, 30 miles northeast of Baghdad. Over the past six weeks, he said, sitting on a cot in an old Iraqi military base, his unit alone has detained nearly 100 people.        “I figure you can either sit barricaded in your base camp, or take the fight to the enemy,” said Lt. Col. Larry “Pepper” Jackson, commander of an Army outpost on the outskirts of, which is still described as hostile by U.S. military intelligence analysts. “Our key to success is staying on the offense. But you don’t do it recklessly, because then you’d lose the people.”        He said he has two patrols on the streets of Bayji at any given time. His troops are still attacked, but as a result of the new tactics, “It is a lot quieter — about half as much contact as in May.”        Three major U.S. operations unfolded over the past two months. In the first one in June, Peninsula Strike, U.S. commanders learned that much of the opposition was coming from Baath Party operatives and their allies in the old Iraqi intelligence services. Desert Scorpion, aimed at cutting off escape routes for fugitive Iraqi leaders, came in late June. It began with 56 simultaneous large-scale raids across central Iraq and brought in a hoard of intelligence. Among those netted was Abid Hamid Mahmud, Hussein’s trusted aide. “That was a big event,” recalled a senior Army official. “He has revealed a lot. He knew where all the safe houses and ratlines were.” Ratlines is an Army term for escape routes.        The third major operation, dubbed Soda Mountain, was the first expressly preemptive effort. Concerned about the threat of an offensive tied to July 17, the 35th anniversary of the day Hussein’s Baath Party took power, U.S. troops rounded up 600 party operatives. “We were aggressive and out there, looking to preclude attacks,” the official said. For example, for six days leading up to the holiday, every car leaving Bayji — a town of 30,000 sitting astride Iraq’s major north-south highway — was stopped at a checkpoint, and many were searched.                U.S. officials say they began to see a significant payoff from the series of operations early this month, when the number of attacks began to decline and Iraqis began to provide more information about the resistance. “When you have one operation after another, there is a cumulative effect,” the Army official said. “The effect of all these operations was that walk-in humint” — human intelligence — doubled from early June to mid-July. What’s more, he said, “it was very good quality.”        Tips began paying off so quickly that officials would launch one raid before another was completed, allowing troops to catch some targets off guard because they didn’t know that fellow resistance fighters had been apprehended. Iraqi resistance fighters in the Sunni triangle at first tried to attack U.S. forces directly with AK-47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. While some killed U.S. troops, many attempts were ineffective. So in recent weeks, military officers said, Iraqi fighters have turned to other weapons.        “They’ve gone to standoff weapons — mines and mortars, and IEDs” — improvised explosive devices, or bombs — said Capt. John Taylor, the intelligence officer for the base near Bayji.        Last Wednesday, a tank from the base hit an antitank mine for the first time since its unit came to Iraq in April. Lt. Erik Aadland, a former resident of Springfield, Va., was standing in the turret of his tank as it was returning to base after a patrol through Bayji. With the tank just a stone’s throw from the front gate, the mine exploded. “Everything went red,” he recalled. “Then we were covered in black smoke.” Aadland and his crew dismounted and stared at the damage: The right track was blown off, the fender above it twisted upward and three armored panels weighing a total of about 1,100 pounds had been hurled about 90 feet away.

       Iraqi fighters have adjusted their tactics in other ways. Upon learning that their homes were being targeted for raids, Baath Party operatives often moved their weapons, cash and documents into the homes of neighbors, military officials said. In turn, U.S. forces expanded the scope of their raids. “The past six weeks, our patrols have gotten more aggressive, much more frequent,” said Healey, the infantry company commander. “Instead of doing one house, for example, we’ll do a whole street.”        Likewise, Iraqi fighters learned the U.S. military is most comfortable operating at night, when it stands to gain the most from its technical advantages, such as night-vision goggles. Some fighters started going back to their homes in midday, and even holding meetings then, U.S. military officials said.        But in military operations, for every action there is a reaction. Hogg, the 2nd Brigade commander, noted this as he sat in a Humvee on Wednesday afternoon, clenching the butt of a Dominican cigar in his teeth. “The knuckleheads kind of figured out that we like to operate at night, so they started operating during the day, so we starting hitting them during the day,” he said as he waited for one of his battalions to launch a daylight raid. “It’s harder, because of the crowds, but it’s also effective.”        Underscoring the intense nature of the combat, Hogg’s brigade, after weeks of being pestered by enemy mortars, has begun responding with heavy artillery, and so far this month has fired more than 60 high-explosive 155 mm shells.        Some Army units have modified their equipment to help them adjust to urban warfare. At least two battalions in the 4th Infantry Division have mounted .50 caliber heavy machine guns on the back of the pickup-truck version of their Humvees, vehicles sometimes used to carry infantry troops to raids. “Gun-vees,” which resembles the “technicals” used by Somali fighters, are especially useful in battling guerrilla fighters in alleys and other tight urban spaces where tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles cannot maneuver.        The modified vehicle also provides a helpful element of surprise, said Jackson, the U.S. commander near Bayji. “A Humvee can sneak up for a raid,” he said. “A tank you can hear a mile away.”        After the fighting is over, U.S. military officials say, it becomes important to repair the damage — a door smashed, a wall breached, an irrigation culvert flattened by a 70-ton M1 Abrams tank. Every U.S. brigade commander in Iraq has a “Commander’s Emergency Repair Fund” of $200,000 that is replenished as he spends it. Over the past six weeks of the U.S. offensive, commanders across Iraq dispensed $13 million to rebuild schools, clinics, water treatment plans and police stations, said Army Col. David MacEwen, who helps coordinate the civic works.

       “During Peninsula Strike, we worked very hard for every combat action to have a ‘carrot’ that followed,” MacEwen said. “We’d do a cordon and search in one area, and then make sure the next day that LPG [cooking gas] was available, or that a pump at a water plant was working.”        The efforts aren’t just aimed at winning hearts and minds, but also at gaining intelligence. “When you’re out doing the civil affairs operations, you get a lot of people coming up and giving you good information,” said Maj. David Vacchi, the operations officer for a battalion operating just northeast of Baghdad.

       Senior U.S. commanders here are so confident about their recent successes that they have begun debating whether victory is in sight. “I think we’re at the hump” now, a senior Central Command official said. “I think we could be over the hump fairly quickly” — possibly within a couple of months, he added.        Hogg, whose troops are still engaged in combat every day, agreed. “I think we’re fixing to turn the corner,” he said Thursday. “I think the operations over the next couple of weeks will get us there.”                 Staff researcher Robert Thomason in Washington contributed to this report.                 © 2003 The Washington Post Company

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