Sat, Oct 25, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Pentagon identifies main `terrorist adversary' in Iraq

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

The militant Iraqi Muslim group Ansar al-Islam, whose main base was destroyed by American and Kurdish forces before the Iraq war began, has become the principal "terrorist adversary" of US forces in the country, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

Air Force Lieutenant General Norton Schwartz told reporters there was no proof that guerrillas from the Muslim group, suspected of having ties to fugitive Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda guerrilla network, had taken part in major suicide bombings in Baghdad. But he reiterated statements by other US officials that Ansar al-Islam had now established itself in Baghdad and said the group had become a primary target of US forces.

"I think that AI ... is our principal organized terrorist adversary in Iraq right now and we are concentrating our resources on that," Schwartz, director for operations on the US military's Joint Staff at the Pentagon, told reporters.

In a memo to senior defense officials, released by the Pentagon this week, Defense Secretary Do-nald Rumsfeld said "we are just getting started" in the fight against Ansar al-Islam.

Schwartz was asked whether Ansar al-Islam was operating independently or whether it was coordinating with loyalists of former president Saddam Hussein, accused by Washington of launching repeated attacks on US troops.

"There are ... some indications that there are linkages between the former regime loyalists and some of the AI seniors. But generally speaking, they are independent actors," he said.

Ansar al-Islam's main base in northern Iraq near the Iranian border was destroyed by US and Kurdish forces in March and most of its leaders were believed to have fled.

But US Army General John Abizaid, commander of American forces in Iraq, said at the Pentagon that elements of Ansar al-Islam had moved into the Baghdad area and were increasing the sophistication of terror attacks there.

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