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Iraq: Operation Iron Hammer May Turn Many Iraqis Against U.S. Troops

U.S. troops have resumed a modified air war in Iraq, using satellite-guided bombs, and other heavy arms to battle guerrilla fighters in Operation Iron Hammer. But many Iraqis say the immoderate use of force is targeting more ordinary citizens than insurgents. They say in the end, Iron Hammer will make the situation even less secure and turn even more Iraqis against the American occupation.

Baghdad, 21 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. troops have undertaken more heavy-handed tactics in fighting the insurgents in Iraq, but it is still unclear what result the tactics will bring. The U.S. Army hopes Operation Iron Hammer will bring stability and security to the country. But many ordinary Iraqis disagree and say it is only mobilizing more and more people against the U.S. occupation.

Coalition spokeswoman Amy Abbot tells RFE/RL Iron Hammer is meant to benefit ordinary Iraqis because it is they who suffer most from the continued guerrilla attacks.

"Operations like this are conducted for the benefit of the Iraqi people. A lot of the insurgents that we are targeting are themselves targeting Iraqis and they are doing harm and causing damage to local people. And [ordinary Iraqis] realize this because a lot of our tips that we got in order to conduct these operations were given to us by the locals who realize that the coalition are here for their benefit," Abbot said.

However, Abbot declined to comment on why U.S. troops are relying on such heavy weaponry for Iron Hammer -- using satellite-guided weapons and 500-pound bombs.

"The [operation command] are the ones who are in charge of the entire operation. [They] have more than the operation overview on why, and for operation security I can't comment on what we are targeting," Abbot said.

Many ordinary Iraqis are not optimistic about the outcome of the operation. They say the new tactics will unlikely give more stability to the country but will probably turn more Iraqis against the U.S. occupation.

Muhammad, a shopkeeper in his thirties, says the U.S. troops are using force too late. He says the "shock and awe" strategy at the beginning of the war should have continued longer: "If they had used Iron [Hammer] from the beginning, building and construction would already be under way [in the country]."

He says the Americans "should have surrounded and arrested all the Ba'ath Party members when the coalition entered Iraq," and "should have used several Iron Hammers" to stop the looting that followed the fall of Baghdad.

But now, Muhammad says, it may be too late for such heavy-handed tactics to be effective.

Abdel Aziz al-Kamme, a man in his seventies, says he always opposed the former regime. But he says he cannot support tactics like Operation Iron Hammer. Although he says the operation gives hope that terrorist networks in Iraq may soon be disbanded, it should not come at the cost of the lives of innocent people.

"I think that there are alternatives to Iron Hammer. The coalition forces should surround [the rebels], undertake ground operations without any air strikes," al-Kamme said.

Muhammad Salim, an engineer in his forties, says tactics like Operation Iron Hammer are a betrayal of early promises by the coalition to bring democracy and security to Iraq.

He says the new bombing campaign shows that Iraqis had more security when deposed President Saddam Hussein was in power. He says Iron Hammer will antagonize many Iraqis who were previously supportive of the U.S. occupation.

"No, [the operation] will not bring [U.S. troops] any security. On the contrary, it will increase the resistance against them. If you know the Iraqi mentality, you should know that when Iraqis come up against force, they don't give up easily," Salim said.

Salim says it is only possible to deal with Iraqis in a democratic way. "You should negotiate with people, and Iraqis are easy to convince," Salim says. "But if you come to challenge them, they will challenge you." The solution, he says, is to hand over power to Iraq as soon as possible. Only Iraqis can govern Iraqis.