Combat Ops For U.S. Troops In Iraq

U.S. Army Lt. Robert Green of Fort Carson, Col., checks the identity of an Iraqi man in Fallujah, 60 miles west of Baghdad, May 28, 2003. In this fundamentalist city on the Euphrates River, just about everyone wants the Americans gone, complaining that the occupiers are culturally insensitive and far too heavy-handed.
In response to recent violence, the commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq said Thursday that he may soon send more troops into combat operations.

On Thursday, a U.S. soldier was killed when his convoy came under fire from a rocket-propelled grenade north of Baghdad, bringing to nine the number of American soldiers who have died around the country this week.

"The war has not ended," Lt. Gen. David McKiernan told reporters at a news conference. "Decisive combat operations against military formations has ended, but these contacts we're having right now are in a combat zone, and it is war, and they are members of (Saddam's) regime that must be removed."

McKiernan blamed recent attacks on Baath Party groups loyal to ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

"The rest of the population knows that they were thugs under his regime, and they know — and the Iraqi population knows — that they have no future in this country," he said.

Thursday's shooting came amid reports that the Pentagon is considering keeping a larger postwar force in the country than originally planned. The New York Times reports most of the 160,000 U.S. and U.K. troops in Iraq were likely to stay.

In other developments:

  • U.S. troops said they have found no sign of bodies or even a bunker at the site in Baghdad where intelligence had said Saddam was sleeping on the war's opening night, March 20.
  • British Prime Minister Tony Blair became the first foreign leader to visit postwar Iraq when he arrived in Basra to thank British troops who helped win the war that ended Saddam's 23-year reign.
  • The Pentagon denies that the dramatic rescue of POW Jessica Lynch from a hospital in Iraq was contrived. Workers at the hospital say if the commandoes had just asked for Lynch, she would have been turned over. But the Pentagon says American military doctrine calls for use of overwhelming force in such situations.
  • An architect of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq told Vanity Fair that Iraq's illegal arsenal was not the chief reason for going to war.

    "For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was one reason everyone could agree on," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the magazine.

    He said a better reason was that overthrowing Saddam would allow the United States to remove its troops from Saudi Arabia, thus depriving al Qaeda of one of its recruiting tools.

    So far, U.S. and British forces in Iraq have produced no evidence of such chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programs.

    A new intelligence report finds two trucks equipped with fermenters seized in Iraq are the best evidence so far of Saddam's weapons programs. But the report by the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency still offers no proof that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that were ready for use.

    Former Senator Sam Nunn is urging Congress to investigate whether the argument to go to war in Iraq was based on distorted intelligence. He says there is a possibility that President Bush's policy against Saddam influenced the intelligence that indicated Baghdad had weapons of mass destruction

    Meanwhile, British opponents of the invasion of Iraq have renewed their criticism of the war after U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Tuesday that Iraq may have destroyed banned weapons before the war.

    Former foreign secretary Robin Cook told the BBC, "If Donald Rumsfeld is now admitting the weapons are not there, the truth is the weapons probably haven't been there for quite a long time." He has asked for a parliamentary inquiry into whether Blair lied to legislators.

    The BBC reported Thursday that British intelligence agents were unhappy with the government's claim that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction ready to use within 45 minutes.

    Blair told reporters en route to Iraq that he was convinced that Saddam did have such weapons.

    "I have said throughout and I just repeat to you, I have absolutely no doubt at all about the existence of weapons of mass destruction," Blair said. "And rather than speculating, let's just wait until we get the full report back from our people who are interviewing the Iraqi scientists," Blair said.

    Blair arrived in the southern city of Basra in a Royal Air Force Hercules C-130 transport plane after flying from Kuwait, where he praised British troops for their efforts during the war and visited an Iraqi school to meet teachers and children.

    "You fought the battle, you won the battle, and you fought it with great courage and valor," Blair told about 400 troops, speaking at one of Saddam's former presidential palaces.

    On his visit, Blair held talks with Britain's special representative in Iraq, John Sawers, and L. Paul Bremer, head of the U.S.-led Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.

    "There is a security problem here, (especially) in Baghdad, where the Baathist regime was at its strongest and where crime has been most difficult to get on top of," he said.

    McKiernan said the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which had been planning to return to the United States in June, was going to remain in Iraq until commanders decided they were no longer needed.

    With recent attacks against U.S. soldiers, he said there were no immediate plans to return the unit to its headquarters at Fort Stewart, Ga.

    "If we need to apply some of the combat power of the 3rd Infantry Division elsewhere in Iraq, we will certainly not hesitate to do that," McKiernan said.

    He said one area where more troops may be sent is Fallujah, 45 miles west of Baghdad.

    Two U.S. soldiers were killed and nine wounded there Sunday night during a firefight at a U.S. checkpoint in the town of 200,000 people, known for supporting Saddam and his Baath Party.