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Iraq: 'Operation Sidewinder' Attempting To Root Out Insurgents

U.S. forces are conducting a massive sweep operation in Iraq in an effort to root out armed resistance and stop deadly attacks on American troops. The U.S. military says "Operation Sidewinder" is targeted against armed Saddam Hussein loyalists. However, hard-core supporters of the former regime are not the only problem the coalition faces.

Prague, 30 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. military today is continuing "Operation Sidewinder" in central Iraq in an effort to eliminate insurgents and remnants of the former regime.

The U.S. military today released a statement saying it has detained at least 319 Iraqis in several operations across the country since yesterday, including a colonel from Saddam's Ba'ath Party.

It is not the first military operation aimed at stopping armed resistance in Iraq, but nevertheless, attacks on U.S. troops continue, and U.S. soldiers are being killed in and outside the capital, Baghdad. The U.S. military blames so-called "remnants of the regime" for the attacks.

Twenty-four U.S. soldiers have been killed by hostile fire since U.S. President George W. Bush announced an end to major fighting in Iraq on 1 May. The U.S. military said on 28 June they had found the remains of two soldiers who had been missing. U.S. Army spokesman Major Sean Gibson said, "Coalition forces today recovered the remains of two United States Army soldiers who had been missing since June 25th. They were recovered from an area about 25 miles (about 40 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad and have been positively identified."

In the latest attack, one Iraqi civilian was killed and two U.S. soldiers were wounded by an explosion that targeted a convoy in Baghdad yesterday.

However, the problems the U.S. is facing in Iraq seem to be bigger than just the resistance of Hussein's supporters.

Neil Partrick is an analyst with the Middle East and Africa section of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in London. He says there are Hussein loyalists fighting U.S. troops, especially in the Sunni areas north of Baghdad. But he says these loyalists are not the only ones engaging U.S. troops.

"There's some evidence that some Islamist groups are forming in some instances tactical alliances with remnants of the former regime or simply acting on their own. And also, of course, we have the tribal factor, which means there are a number of tribes who were armed by the regime in the couple of years or so preceding the fall of it and these tribes indeed may be providing protection for some senior regime figures -- even possibly Saddam himself."

Partrick says resistance coming from the tribes may have nothing to do with loyalty to Hussein. He says sometimes it is simply tribal pride that sparks an attack. For instance, tribesmen consider it a humiliation to be disarmed. Carrying a weapon is a matter of pride. Partrick says the disarming of tribesmen was one of the reasons behind the attack that killed six British soldiers in southern Iraq last week.

Partrick says the situation in the Sunni areas near Baghdad might be less tense if U.S. troops did more to understand and respect tribal customs. He says U.S. forces must negotiate more with tribal leaders in such explosive places -- in Al-Fallujah, for example.

Patrick says even Hussein's arrest would be unlikely to end all the problems U.S. forces are experiencing in the country.

"But at the same time, it's still very important -- I think the U.S. recognizes this -- to work with local leaderships. I mean, in some instances in the areas that have shown resistance, their policies have been misguided and they haven't fully understood the need to work with local leaders. And some of these forces may resist, even if Saddam Hussein is arrested."

However, Partrick says Hussein's capture would dispel the fear still felt by many Iraqis that the former leader will eventually return.

Yesterday, the head of the U.S.-led administration in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, pledged that American troops will find Hussein -- dead or alive.

A more burning issue than Hussein's fate, however, is restoring law and order in the country.

Julian Lindley-French is an expert on U.S. security studies at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, a think tank associated with NATO's Partnership for Peace program. He says restoration of all major services is one of the main tasks facing the coalition in Iraq. However, he says part of the problem is that services haven't been restored due to sabotage.

"It is a dilemma and almost a tragic irony that the Americans in particular are being blamed for everything, much of which is not their fault."

People in Iraq angrily speak about the lack of law and order, electricity cuts, lack of clean water, and traffic jams in the capital. They say it is unsafe for children to go to school and for women to go shopping. People don't talk about "liberation" but refer to the American presence as an "occupation."

Some Shi'a and Sunni clerics are preaching against the "occupation" during Friday prayers. Political parties, opponents of the former regime, criticize the American civil administration for the delays in the formation of the Iraqi government.

Muhammad Abdel Jabar is an organizer of a new political party in Iraq called For Reconstruction and Democracy. He agrees that dissatisfaction with daily life in Baghdad is growing but says it is too early to speak about a widespread revolt against the Americans "at the moment." He says, "It is true that the economic situation is deteriorating indeed and not getting better. It's true that the normal Iraqi people are suffering from this very severe situation. But I wouldn't say that in this situation, in this stage, that this difficult situation might push the Iraqi people to be involved in a military resistance, the anti-American military resistance in Iraq. It's too early to speculate on this point."

Meanwhile, the U.S. military command says it is confident the progress achieved by toppling Hussein will not slip away.

U.S. General Tommy Franks, who was in charge of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, yesterday downplayed the impact of the attacks on U.S. soldiers on the coalition's overall victory.

"Will the problems in Iraq and the attacks spoil the victory achieved by the Americans? Of course not."

Franks said all Iraqis have a brighter future now than they did three or four months ago. More Iraqis would likely have agreed with Franks three months ago than do now, however.