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Iraq: Some Question U.S. 'Get Tough' Policy

By Pejman Peyman

Baghdad, 17 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The announcement over the weekend that the Coalition Forces will turn over sovereignty to Iraq by next June has raised the question of whether they will also end the "get tough" military policy they started a few weeks ago, even before the attacks against U.S. helicopters.

Coalition Forces say they have increased their attacks against suspected Iraqi resistance groups and foreign terrorists to flush them out.

There have been numerous attacks in Baghdad and other parts of the country lately, with Coalition Forces rounding up suspects, searching homes for guns, and even leveling homes and buildings with rockets and artillery.

For the first time since the war officially ended on 1 May, U.S. forces this week fired a satellite-guided missile from somewhere in Baghdad at a place in the northern city of Kirkuk, which they described as a "terrorist camp."

Many Iraqis, including former army commanders, current political allies of the United States, and even some ranking officers within the U.S. army stationed here, question the wisdom of the "get tough" policy.

While the overall policy is dictated through Washington and General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the U.S. troops here, has passed it on to his commanders on the ground, each commander has operational liberty in terms of how to combat the Iraqi forces.

For example, while commanders in troublesome areas like Tikrit and Al-Fallujah have adopted a harsher tone, commanders in Mosul and even some areas of Baghdad have been more conciliatory.

General Muhammad Abdullah al-Shahwani, a former decorated Iraqi military commander, takes issue with comments made by General John Abizaid, the U.S. Central Command chief, and says the "get tough" policy will likely backfire.

"Abizaid says the resistance could be 5,000. OK, each day they are going to kill six, seven. So, how many days do you [need] to get rid of all those guys? In the meantime, they [their number] are growing. So, this is not a solution, actually. They [Coalition Forces] will create more hate for the United States rather than [people] welcoming them because they liberated the country. They are not in Vietnam."

Even Washington's Iraqi political allies are warning against the "get tough" policy.

Haithan al-Hosseiny is an adviser to Abdel Aziz Hakim, a member of the Governing Council and leader of the Supreme Council of the Iraqi Revolution in Iraq. Al-Hosseiny says the policy is responsible for the recent flare-up in the hostilities and is counterproductive.

"A prerequisite of having power is to know how to use it. The Americans cannot distinguish between criminals and terrorists who have come here for a reason. The combination of the two has created a dangerous mix that is responsible for the intensification of the conflict in the past weeks and months," he said.

Opponents of the military intensification policy also point out that every time Coalition Forces increase the pressure, so do the resistance forces.

A suicide bomber attacked the headquarters of the Italian police, the Carabinieri, in the southern city of Al-Nassiriyah last week, killing 18 of them and injuring 21.

Two weeks ago assailants attacked the Polish contingent of the Coalition Forces, killing a Polish soldier who was the first to lose his life in an overseas operation since World War II.

Earlier this month, a bomb went off in the southern city of Al-Basrah, where British troops are in charge, but there were no British casualties.

As the man in charge of recommending the best military policy, General Sanchez admits quelling the resistance is as much a military problem as an economic issue.

"Do I see this as a political or military issue? Actually, it is both and more. It is a political, military, and economic solution that is necessary in order for us to win this low-intensity conflict. And all those three lines of operation must progress together for us to bring peace and stability to Iraq."

With last weekend's sovereignty announcement, some Iraqis maybe seeing progress on the political front, but they still want to know when the military occupation of their country will end.

The answer, say U.S. officials, not anytime soon, not necessarily.

From U.S.. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to General Sanchez, Coalition officials have said the troops are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

The only thing in question is the total number of the troops and whether soldiers from other countries will replace departing American soldiers. Currently, more than 30 countries are participating in the Coalition Forces, but with some 130,000 troops, the United States has contributed the bulk of the force.

Jalal Talabani, this month's chairman of the Iraqi Governing Council, has said the upcoming Iraqi provisional government will draft a law "inviting" the forces to stay. Details will be negotiated later.