The United States has launched a new offensive against anticoalition guerrillas in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit as well as in Baghdad. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz reports on a campaign that has been described by U.S. President George W. Bush as an adjustment of strategy.
Prague, 17 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush says U.S. forces are changing tactics in Iraq to counter increasingly lethal attacks against them by the remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Bush told journalists in Washington yesterday that intensified U.S. military operations in northern Iraq during the weekend -- including the use of a satellite-guided missile, attack helicopters, tanks, and artillery -- are a response to changing tactics by Iraqi fighters.
"The [U.S.] military is adjusting [in Iraq]. You've been reading about the fact that they are adjusting their strategy and their plans. That's exactly what the commander-in-chief [of the U.S. Armed Forces, the United States president] expects -- flexibility on the ground to change response to a change of tactics with the enemy."
Bush declared on 1 May that major combat operations in Iraq were over. But despite the latest offensive against guerrilla-styled fighters in Iraq, Bush told British journalist David Frost yesterday that he still would not describe the current situation as a guerrilla war.
"Well, I would call it a desperate attempt by people who were totally in control of [the Iraqi] government through tyrannical means to regain power," he said.
Bush's remarks follow a series of attacks in the past month that have dramatically increased the U.S. casualty toll in Iraq.
RFE/RL correspondent in Iraq Valentinas Mite says the escalating number of casualties suggests guerrilla fighters are either becoming better organized or have gained access to more sophisticated weaponry.
On 15 November, U.S. forces suffered the bloodiest single incident since they invaded the country when two Black Hawk helicopters collided and crashed in Mosul. U.S. officials say they are still investigating witness reports that one of the helicopters had been targeted by a rocket-propelled grenade or a shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile.
Earlier this month, 16 U.S. soldiers were killed when a Chinook helicopter was shot down by a surface-to-air missile near the city of Al-Fallujah. Another six U.S. soldiers also were killed when a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by guerrillas in Tikrit.
Last week, a suicide car bombing at the headquarters of Italian security forces in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Nasiriyah killed 18 Italian police officers and soldiers along with several Iraqis.
Major Trey Cate of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division insists that the average number of daily guerrilla attacks in northern Iraq has remained about the same since mid-April.
"We average between four and seven attacks [against us] a day in our area of operations -- and have for the last seven months. That has not changed. We will go through periods where we have a small spike every couple of weeks."
But Cate also says attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces are becoming "obviously more lethal."
As part of a new campaign called Operation Ivy Cyclone Two, U.S. troops last night launched the first satellite-guided missile to be used by the coalition in Iraq since major combat was declared over.
A spokesman for the U.S. Army's Fourth Infantry Division, Lieutenant Colonel Bill MacDonald, says the missile's 225-kilogram warhead struck a guerrilla base on an island of the Little Zab River to the west of Kirkuk. MacDonald says mid-level leaders of the Iraqi guerrillas used the base to plot and finance attacks. There were no immediate details on casualties.
In Tikrit, reporters monitoring the 122nd Battalion of the U.S. Army's Fourth Infantry Division say U.S. artillery and M1 Abrams tanks fired shells at suspected guerrilla positions overnight near Tikrit.
That battalion's commander, Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russel, says the barrage was in response to a rocket attack yesterday against a U.S. base in Tikrit. "We are targeting an area where we have had the rocket launch out of earlier today. These attacks -- basically we're going in the areas where they were launched from."
Meanwhile, journalists are making dramatic audio and video recordings that illustrate the intensity of the latest fighting. In one case, a Reuters camera crew was filming a weekend raid in northern Iraq by U.S. troops when the group came under fire from a suspected Hussein loyalist on the roof of a residential building. That attacker was captured after a brief gun battle.
A U.S. military statement says troops also recently arrested Kazim Muhammad Faris -- an alleged organizer and a leader of Fedayeen guerrillas who are suspected of carrying out bomb attacks and ambushes on U.S. forces.
Twenty-one suspects also were arrested overnight in a cordon-and-search raid that was conducted in Baghdad's middle-class Azamiyah District.
About 2,000 soldiers from the U.S. First Armored Division took part in that urban operation with support from tanks, armored personnel carriers, and attack helicopters. About 30 Kalashnikov AK-47 automatic assault rifles also were seized in that raid.