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Iraq around the clock

"Iraq around the clock" Continued...

Issue: "Gay marriage backlash," Dec. 6, 2003

Winter offensive: American military intelligence officers in Iraq expect that the mortar and terrorist attacks will become more lethal. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who is in charge of the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad, says that he expects "bombs to get larger" and worries about intelligence indicating that "the hostiles are learning better fusing techniques." That's means deadlier bombs that are more likely to go off.

Separately, an Iranian intelligence officer who is negotiating his defection to a European country predicts that the terrorist offensive will occur in both Iraq and Afghanistan. While U.S. intelligence on the enemy is growing rapidly, so is enemy intelligence on troop movements. One concern, mentioned by a non-American intelligence officer, is that Baathist forces may have a mole on the Iraqi Governing Council.

To counter this, operational tempo is increasing. In the month of October, Taskforce Iron Horse conducted more than 21,000 patrols and 361 raids, detaining over 1,500 people. Among the prisoners were 46 bomb makers and six cell leaders who finance attacks on allied forces, said Gen. Barbero, the assistant commander of that unit.

Virtually all of the enemy forces encountered, according to Gen. Barbero, are former regime loyalists-FRLs in the jargon-who are paid to do their murderous work.

While Gen. Barbero says he doesn't need more men, he insists he needs more high-tech tools to defeat terror attacks. He complains about a shortage of unmanned aerial vehicles, pilotless spy planes used to scout the borders with Iraq and Syria. Gen. Barbero said, "If we had more UAVs, we'd fly them every night."

He showed reporters a series of aerial photographs, taken from a UAV known as a "Shadow," of a caravan of terrorists snaking through dry riverbeds along Iraq's border with Iran. Black Hawk helicopters were dispatched and some two dozen armed men were captured. But it was a fleeting success. The following night the Shadow did not fly.

Weapons of Mass Destruction: David Kay, head of the Iraqi Survey Group, said his team's search for WMD is making progress. "Contrary to what you read in the press, senior detainees are talking," Mr. Kay said. The United States has built a new prisoner interrogation facility in Acha, north of Baghdad.

Mr. Kay's biggest problem-and one unlikely to be solved soon-is a shortage of Arabic translators with a high-level security clearance. "We've got more than 95 miles of documents" relating to WMD, he said. Most still have not been translated. Early on, Mr. Kay's team tried searching captured computer databases for key Arabic words such as nuclear or anthrax and found nothing. Saddam's weapons programs were more cleverly hidden should UN inspectors ever hack into his databases.

A lack of translators also hampers some interrogations with Iraqi scientists. Scientists who speak good English have been useful. Two top Iraqi biological-warfare scientists, codenamed "Charlie" and "Alpha," are cooperating, Mr. Kay said.

"Almost every week there is a new discovery that boggles your mind," he said. One example: He recently learned that Saddam had paid the North Koreans a $10 million deposit for long-range No Dong missiles that could be adapted to carry chemical or biological weapons. Apparently, the missiles were never delivered, but North Korea kept the money.

Translators are not the only problem. Some of the best WMD sources have fled or been killed. The head of Saddam's nuclear-enrichment program was shot to death when his driver ran a checkpoint on May 8, Mr. Kay said. Because Saddam demanded that his top people memorize the most sensitive information, Mr. Kay explained, most of the information about the nuclear-enrichment program died with him.

If Mr. Kay's hunt for WMD fails to turn up dramatic evidence in the coming months, public support for the continuing occupation of Iraq could shrink.

Transfer of Sovereignty: Turning authority over to an appointed Iraqi Governing Council in June 2004, a target announced by the White House in November, may cause even more problems in Iraq. Mr. Bremer is frustrated with the slow pace of their decisions and finds the Iraqi Governing Council "unwieldy," said one official who works with Mr. Bremer.

Relations could become worse if the new Iraqi constitution, due to be drafted by the end of February, is deemed unacceptable by the Iraqis or if one religious faction wants its faith written into law. A range of localized issues needs to be addressed to avoid wider conflict. Relations between Kurds and Arabs in northern Iraq, for example, seem to be worsening. Many Kurds lost homes and farms that were forcibly transferred to Sunni Arabs in Saddam's day, and now want them back. The constitution may have to provide for compensation or land reform. At the same time, cities like Tikrit, which flourished under Saddam, may chafe at returning to local rule. In Tikrit's case that means shifting power away from Saddam's hometown to the province's former capital of Samara.

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