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Iraq: Will Hussein's Capture Be Enough To Bring Security?

As daily outbursts of violence continue in Iraq, some U.S. officials say they still believe the capture or death of Saddam Hussein will bring stability and greater cooperation with American troops. But others say resistance to U.S. soldiers will mount unless Washington takes steps to modify its strategy in Iraq.

Prague, 8 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- It's been another unpleasant week for Americans in Iraq on the security front.

Five more U.S. troops have been killed since 6 August, bringing to 56 the number of dead since 1 May, when President George W. Bush declared an end to major-combat operations.

A powerful car bomb exploded yesterday (7 August) outside the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad, killing at least 17 people and wounding more than 50. And a U.S. military spokesman said today two Iraqis were killed and two wounded when U.S. troops opened fire on the men while they were removing weapons from a vehicle in the city of Tikrit.

American officials and military commanders admitted this week the tactics used by soldiers need to be changed.

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, says the "iron-fisted" approach used by the Americans to date was beginning to alienate Iraqis. He says U.S. troops will scale back the number of raids they conduct and have been ordered to behave with greater civility toward ordinary Iraqis.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said yesterday he believes Iraqis themselves should be handed greater responsibility for security matters.

"Maybe what you want to do is stand back a little bit more and let Iraqis, local officials -- we have started to create security forces, Iraqis have started to create security forces -- that will protect installations, so that you don't need a coalition military organization protecting that installation."

Under the new approach, American forces might withdraw from towns that are quiet and leave the policing to the Iraqis. This, it is hoped, will allow U.S. troops to focus more on capturing Ba'ath Party officials -- first and foremost Saddam Hussein, whose capture or death Americans hope will go far toward restoring security in Iraq. It is also hoped the new strategy will also lessen the building Iraqi resentment against the continued American presence.

Hala Jabber, a Middle East expert, author, and journalist for the London "Sunday Times," has visited Iraq on several occasions. She spent the war in Baghdad and has since returned several times.

Jabber says she believes America is continuing to make mistakes in Iraq that bode ill for the future. Most Iraqis, she says, were either well-disposed toward or neutral to the Americans when they first occupied the country. But that feeling has changed.

"At the moment there seems to be one common sentiment that runs among most Iraqis, and that is resentment and anger towards the American troops in Iraq -- be they in the south, the north, or in Baghdad, for that matter."

Jabber has talked to people involved in the attacks on Americans and says it is wrong to call them all supporters of Saddam Hussein or his repressive Ba'athist Party. She says American mistakes have been enough to turn even potential friends into enemies.

"It would be very naive for anyone to believe that the entire resistance currently in Iraq is purely being carried out by remnants of the Ba'ath regime or loyalists of Saddam Hussein," she says. "There's no doubt that there are some groups that are loyal and are remnants of the Ba'ath regime that are doing some attacks, but there are other groups now forming by themselves that are very anti-American for all sorts of different reasons, a range of reasons -- be it personal vendettas, resentment, dissatisfaction, somebody has been killed in their family by the Americans, for the way [U.S. troops] are carrying out raids, for the way they are harassing people, for cultural reasons, the way they touched women when they were doing searches. There are all these reasons accumulating and providing different people with different reasons to carry out resistance."

Daniel McGrory of the London "Times" has covered the war and its aftermath extensively and also says the Americans have made serious errors.

"I believe they've made many mistakes and as a consequence of that they've made many enemies. The Americans like to claim that everyone who takes pot shots at them or fires rocket-propelled grenades at them are members of the resistance or Islamic fanatics. The truth is they're not. There are many forms of resistance in Iraq today and some of the people who are on the streets will tell you that they were the same people who in April cheered the Americans when they entered Baghdad and had high expectations and high hopes."

He says, "Sadly, the hatred the troops on the ground show to normal Iraqi people in their everyday dealings has turned those people against the Americans. The lack of security, the lack of civility, the lack of politeness that exists has, I think, agitated and alienated many people in Baghdad and beyond."

But McGrory says the Americans can still win back popular sympathy if they mend their aggressive attitude toward ordinary Iraqi civilians and crack down on the common criminals who continue to terrorize large sections of the population.

"Of course, there's going to be a resistance to the presence of any [foreign] forces in Iraq [that stay] for any longer than they have to be there. And of course there are going to be elements of Saddam's regime still around even if Saddam is killed or captured. Of course there are also elements of Islamic fanaticism there who don't want to see the Americans around. But the vast majority of people, I think, would welcome a change in attitude, and if security were established on the streets of Iraq and the major cities, certainly around northern Iraq, I believe that people would welcome that."

Even Jabber, a native Lebanese, says few Iraqis want to see the Americans leave immediately.

"Despite the resentment for the Americans at the moment, they also fear that an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq -- and this is where the contradiction is -- could actually spark a civil war, because you will have the Shi'ites who want one thing, the Sunnis want another, the Kurds who want a third, and so on and so forth. So there is also fear and the danger that Iraq could disintegrate into a civil war and anarchy beyond what we're seeing now, should the Americans totally withdraw."

Still, she warns, the Americans must rethink their attitude. Otherwise, their behavior is sure to reignite a wider conflict in Iraq.