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U.S. Facing a Rise In Iraqi Hostility

New intelligence assessments are warning that the United States' most formidable foe in Iraq in the months ahead may be the resentment of ordinary Iraqis increasingly hostile to the U.S. military occupation, Defense Department officials say.

That picture, shared with U.S. military commanders in Iraq, is very different from the public view currently being presented by senior Bush administration officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who again on Tuesday listed only "dead-enders, foreign terrorists and criminal gangs" as opponents of the U.S. occupation.

The Defense Department officials spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity, saying they were concerned about retribution for straying from the official line.
U.S. facing a rise in Iraqi hostility

Aides' account disputes official line

Douglas Jehl and David E. Sanger
The New York Times
Wednesday, September 17, 2003

WASHINGTON -- New intelligence assessments are warning that the United States' most formidable foe in Iraq in the months ahead may be the resentment of ordinary Iraqis increasingly hostile to the U.S. military occupation, Defense Department officials say.

That picture, shared with U.S. military commanders in Iraq, is very different from the public view currently being presented by senior Bush administration officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who again on Tuesday listed only "dead-enders, foreign terrorists and criminal gangs" as opponents of the U.S. occupation.

The Defense Department officials spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity, saying they were concerned about retribution for straying from the official line.

But they said it was a mistake for the administration to discount the role of ordinary Iraqis who have little in common with the groups Rumsfeld cited, but whose anger over the U.S. presence appears to be kindling some sympathy for those attacking U.S. forces.

Other U.S. government officials said some of the concerns had been prompted by recent polling in Iraq by the State Department's intelligence branch. The findings, which remain classified, include significant levels of hostility to the U.S. presence.

The officials said indications of that hostility extended well beyond the Sunni heartland of Iraq, which has been the main setting for attacks on U.S. forces, to include the Shiite-dominated south, whose citizens have been more supportive of the American military presence but have also protested loudly about raids and other U.S. actions.

As reasons for Iraqi hostility, the defense officials cited not just disaffection over a lack of electricity and other essential services in the months since the war, but cultural factors that magnify anger about the foreign military presence.

"To a lot of Iraqis, we're no longer the guys who threw out Saddam, but the ones who are busting down doors and barging in on their wives and daughters," a defense official said.

Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush's national security adviser, however, took issue with the assertion of Iraqi dissatisfaction with the presence of U.S. troops, saying the United States was making headway in places like Baghdad and Tikrit, where much of the resistance is centered.

"But there is, even in that part of the country, progress," she said in an interview.

"People finished their university exams, the Iraqi symphony orchestra performed and took a tour up to the north. Kids went to school."

Some U.S. officials said the intelligence assessments underscored that opposition to U.S. forces in Iraq is likely to get worse before it gets better. Others cautioned that it was risky to make such forecasts, and some cited what they called indicators of recent improvements in the security situation.

But while Bush and other senior administration officials have described the conflict in Iraq primarily as a battleground in the war on terrorism, the officials said, the recent intelligence assessments tend to cast it mainly as an insurgency in which the key variable will be the role played by ordinary Iraqis.

"As time goes on, if the infrastructure doesn't improve, and American troops are still out there front and center, it's hard to see the public mood getting any better," a U.S. government official said.

A military official who acknowledged the existence of the pessimistic intelligence assessments said he took issue with some of the conclusions. He said that the bounties being offered in Iraq for attacks on Americans had increased recently, to as much as $5,000, in what he called an indication that those opposed to the U.S.-led occupation were having a harder time enlisting support.

The official also said that the number of intelligence tips and other useful information provided to U.S. forces in Iraq was generally on the increase, which he called a sign of increasing cooperation by large segments of the Iraqi public.

To help blunt the anger directed at the U.S.-led occupying force, Rumsfeld said again Tuesday that the United States hoped to accelerate the hand-over of security responsibilities in Iraq to the Iraqi police, border guards, civil defense forces and soldiers trained by the United States.

Nearly 60,000 Iraqis are now in uniform, he told reporters at a Pentagon briefing, and the administration hopes to increase that number to about 70,000 soon, to include more than 10,000 former Iraqi soldiers who are being trained to join in the new civil defense force.

But Monday's assassination of a high-ranking Iraqi police official has highlighted the difficulty involved in the effort, including the danger that Iraqis working with U.S. forces will be targeted by others as collaborators, the defense officials said.

On Tuesday, some Defense Department officials said that the role played by foreign extremists, including members of the Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah, remains a source of increasing concern.

The largest recent indicator of foreign involvement came last week, they said, when U.S. military forces detained some 80 foreign fighters, including Saudis, Jordanians and Sudanese, who were rounded up along with money and weapons in two separate raids conducted by the 101st Air Assault Division near the Saudi border.

But they said the degree to which such fighters, along with loyalists to Saddam Hussein, were finding support within the Iraqi population was making it difficult for U.S. forces to track them down and root them out.

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