Wed, Nov 26, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Security concern in Iraq shifting to local officials

AP , BAGHDAD

Iraqi insurgents have shifted from attacking US and other coalition forces to attacks on Iraqis who are working with the US-led occupation, the chief administrator said yesterday.

"The security situation has changed," Paul Bremer told reporters at a press conference with General John Abizaid, the chief of the US Central Command. "In the past attacks against the coalition were predominant. Now terrorist attacks against Iraqis are regular."

Abizaid said there were some foreigners fighting with the insurgents but their numbers were small. He said the main threat facing US and coalition forces came from supporters of former president Saddam Hussein.

"They have failed to intimidate the coalition," Bremer said. "They have now begun a pattern of trying to intimidate innocent Iraqi. They will not succeed ... If Saddam taught the Iraqis nothing else it was how to endure the depredations of thugs."

Bremer was referring to a series of attacks including two car bombs last weekend at police stations in Baqouba and Khan Bani Saad, the assassination on Saturday of a police colonel in Mosul and the killing on Sunday of a police chief in Latifiyah near Baghdad.

Bremer was asked whether insurgents may try to disrupt the process of choosing members of the National Assembly and other steps to democracy which will be undertaken as part of the plan to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis by July 1.

"We have to anticipate that there will have to be a level of terrorism in this country" for some time to come, Bremer said. "As the process of democracy moves forward in the next six to seven months, they may try to attack the institutions of democracy."

Abizaid agreed that the number of daily attacks on coalition forces were down by about half over the last two weeks. He gave no figures but US officials said at the time that US forces were being attacked on an average 30 to 35 times a day.

"In the past two weeks, these attacks have gone down attacks against coalition forces but unfortunately we find that attacks against Iraqis have increased," Abizaid said.

He said the attacks had increased not only in numbers but in severity.

Bremer added that the plan for choosing national assembly delegates in caucuses in each of the 18 provinces will produce "a much more broadly representative government" than the current, 25-seat Governing Council.

The US-appointed council includes representatives of Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish and other groups depending on their size.

Abizaid said some of the foreigners believed fighting with the insurgents included Syrians, Saudis and Yemenis among others.

Significantly, he said no Iranians had been found so far with the insurgents.

He said the "main problem" facing the coalition was not with foreigners but with "agents of the former regime."

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