First Published: 2003-11-10

US soldier killed south of Baghdad

US forces nab 35 people thought linked to Baghdad hotel attack, using Iraqi informers to trap bombers.


Middle East Online

By Ned Parker - BAGHDAD

US-led coalition has started to build an apparatus of Iraqi intelligence

A US soldier was killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack south of Baghdad, a military spokeswoman said on Monday.

"One soldier was killed yesterday (Sunday) at 7:00 pm (1600 GMT)," she said.

"He is from the 18th Military Police Brigade. He was killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack west of Iskandariya," about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the capital, she said, without giving further details.

"There are no reports of incidents for today," the spokeswoman added.

The death raised to 148 the number of US soldiers killed in combat in Iraq since May 1, when Washington declared major hostilities over. Another six died when a helicopter came down Friday but investigations continue into the cause.

During the main, six-week offensive before that date, 114 Americans died from hostile fire.

Meanwhile, US forces arrested 35 people thought linked to a deadly rocket attack on US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's hotel, as the US-led coalition turns increasingly to Iraqis to help defeat its opponents.

Elsewhere, in the first known bombardments on built-up areas since the springtime invasion of Iraq, the coalition called in airstrikes this weekend around two hotbeds of violence, fugitive strongman Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit and the western city of Fallujah.

US warplanes dropped three 500-pound (230-kilo) bombs just outside Fallujah as the coalition escalated its response to insurgents who refuse to fade away seven months into the US occupation of Iraq.

The bombings followed a similar show of force by the 4th Infantry Division near Tikrit after a Blackhawk helicopter was brought down Friday.

That crash killed six soldiers and led some officers to believe the chopper had been shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade, even as military spokesmen maintained they did not yet know what caused the downing.

US overseer Paul Bremer told The Times of London Monday terrorism looked set to jump in Iraq over the next few months as "several hundreds" of professional terrorists had sneaked into the country.

The volatile security situation put new urgency on the 24-member interim Governing Council to make quick strides on drafting a constitution as the violence threatens to overwhelm the US-led reconstruction of Iraq.

"The ball lands in our court and we must deliver," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters Sunday.

The Washington Post said Sunday US officials are dissatisfied with the handpicked members of the Iraqi Governing Council and are considering other ways of creating a sovereign government in Iraq.

And Bremer told a press conference here Sunday it was nearly time for the council to move ahead with the drafting of a constitution and present a calendar for national elections.

The capture of the 35 men believed connected to the October attack on the heavily-fortified Rashid hotel showcased the military's new strategy of sending out Iraqi operatives to catch Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters.

"After the Rashid attack, intelligence became one of our priorities," a senior military officer said about the rocket attack which killed a US colonel and wounded 17 others.

He said that the military had found a welding shop in the capital's upmarket Mansur district, they found pieces of metal painted the same royal blue colour as the rocket launcher, and the shop's walls were also painted the same tint.

Iraqi informants identified members of an alleged cell in Mansur, and one was detailed to carry out surveillance on their homes.

Asked if the Iraqi was a full-fledged agent employed by the US government, the officer refused to say.

"These men are patriots ... They are doing it for a better life," he said.

With the men's addresses and shots of their homes, four combat-ready companies swooped down on the Mansur area early Saturday.

Of the 35 men captured, 10 were on the army's top list of suspects. During the raid, the military also seized computers and cellphones, along with 50,000 dollars and seven million dinars (3,500 dollars), the officer said.

The raid boosted the theory championed by top US military brass in Iraq that the only way for the coalition to defeat insurgents is through human intelligence.

Alone, the US military appears unable to penetrate Iraq's underworld of Saddam loyalists, gangsters and foreign fighters.

But since the August suicide bombings of the Jordan embassy and the United Nations in Baghdad, the coalition has apparently started to build an apparatus of Iraqi intelligence.

The coalition had also started recruiting former members of Saddam's intelligence services to track militants slipping in from Syria and Iran, Iraqis close to the coalition said in September.


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