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Iraq insurgency more sophisticated -US intelligence

By Michael Georgy Sun May 29, 1:17 PM ET

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -

Iraq's murky insurgency is gaining in sophistication as foreign militants step up suicide bombings and guerrillas improve surveillance techniques, a senior U.S. military intelligence officer said on Sunday.

While foreign fighters make up only around five percent of the overall insurgency, they are causing disproportionate damage with suicide attacks, the officer said.

"Suicide bombings are their precision guided weapons in terms of the damage against Iraqi civilians," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Suicide bombings are the biggest killers in Iraq but they are the most difficult attacks to prevent. Suicide bombers struck 69 times in April alone and 56 times so far this month, the officer said.

After indoctrination training, militants cross into Iraq from countries such as Syria and quickly pass through a network of handlers before blowing themselves up, he said.

"Their trip has several parts. They are dropped off at one point and then they are picked up. They don't stay long," the officer told reporters.

Syria has denied Iraqi accusations that it allows insurgents to cross into Iraq to carry out attacks.

The bombers are part of a complex, loosely connected insurgency that also includes former members of Saddam's Baath Party, Sunni Arab nationalists and Iraqis tied to the fighting by tribal, family and personal connections.

While suicide bombers are inspired by everything from Internet holy war messages to the al Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,

Saddam Hussein loyalists with years of intelligence experience are seeking to regain power, the officer said.

The officer, who estimated insurgents number between 12,000 and 20,000 in the "worst case scenario," said guerrillas were not getting stronger, despite an upsurge of violence that has killed around 700 people since a new government was formed last month.

But he said they have significantly improved their surveillance techniques. "They are taking more pictures now," he said.

Iraqi forces launched their biggest security crackdown since the fall of Saddam with the start of Operation Lightning on Sunday, a sweep by 40,000 Iraqi troops who will seal off Baghdad and hunt for insurgents.

They are hoping to find sites like a factory in Baghdad that fits cars with bombs in an hour, a type of explosives assembly line, that officials said was recently discovered.

The officer cited a large number of car bomb attacks recently, with 135 in April and 143 so far this month alone.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have repeatedly said that military firepower and security crackdowns cannot succeed without better intelligence.


Raging violence has raised concerns of a sectarian civil war after a historic January 30 election that dramatically altered Iraq's political structure.

Shi'ites and Kurds are the new powers, while Sunnis once dominant under Saddam have been sidelined. The insurgency is dominated by Sunni Arabs.

The intelligence officer said he was not concerned about the possibility of a civil war, stressing that "it is in nobody's interest" and more Sunnis were pursuing the political process.

Iraqi officials have accused Zarqawi, of ordering suicide bombings to spark a civil war.

The U.S. military believes that Zarqawi has been wounded, as his group's Web site reported, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Sunday.

Even if Zarqawi is no longer active in Iraq, it appears there will be no shortage of suicide bombers.

"It is like a cult," the officer said. "There is something in their life that draws them to this."


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