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Fear of terrorism empties Baghdad schools

Sunday, November 2, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Nervous Baghdad parents kept children home from school on Saturday, but warnings of terror attacks and anonymous calls for a general strike otherwise had limited impact across Iraq, as U.S. authorities moved to counter an intensifying insurgency.

More Iraqi security forces will be trained and deployed more quickly to deal with the anti-U.S. resistance, said U.S. occupation chief L. Paul Bremer.

"It will take time to root them out," Bremer told reporters. But his U.S. commander said it was still not known who "they" are -- who is financing and masterminding increasingly coordinated strikes.

Those attacks spiked upward recently to an average of 33 a day. Most occur in central Iraq, but Saturday's deadliest blow came in the north, in the city of Mosul, where the U.S. military said a makeshift roadside bomb exploded and killed two U.S. soldiers and wounded two others as they drove by in two civilian vehicles.

President Bush on Saturday insisted U.S.-led forces are rounding up insurgents and vowed the new attacks will not drive out the Americans. "The United States will complete our work in Iraq," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "Leaving Iraq prematurely would only embolden the terrorists and increase the danger to America. We are determined to stay, to fight and to win."

Pipeline explosion

In another incident Saturday, unconfirmed by the U.S. command, witnesses said insurgents attacked a U.S. convoy near Heet, 75 miles northwest of Baghdad, and one Iraqi was seen waving a piece of wrecked vehicle and shouting a pro-Saddam Hussein slogan. There was no word on casualties.

Some 100 miles north of Baghdad, near Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, an explosion and fire struck an oil pipeline, a favorite target of the resistance saboteurs since oil is key to U.S. plans to rebuild Iraq's economy and remake its politics.

It was a street leaflet attributed to the fugitive ex-president Saddam's Baath Party that called for a three-day general strike and declared Saturday a "Day of Resistance," sparking rumors of planned new terror bombings.

This came just days after four coordinated suicide bombings in Baghdad last Monday killed about three dozen people and wounded more than 200, almost all Iraqis.

Despite these fears, many shops in this city of 5 million people opened Saturday as usual, although fewer Baghdadis seemed willing to venture out in the morning. Traffic picked up as the day wore on, however, and as people realized no siege of bombings had materialized.

Police checkpoints had been set up across the city. "I went out as usual and sent my children to school," said one resident, Karima Dawth. "Warnings by Baathists don't terrify us."

Most parents seemed to feel otherwise, however, as schools reported very low attendance.

In Iraq's second- and third-largest cities, Basra and Mosul, there was no sign of strike action. Shops were open and traffic appeared normal.

The "Day of Resistance" threat had prompted some Western governments to issue warnings to their citizens here. The U.S. authorities urged Americans to "continue to maintain a high level of vigilance," since the vague threats seem to cover a two- or three-day period.

'A tough week'

"There's no denying this has been a tough week," Bremer said at the start of Saturday's news conference. He noted it began with a rocket attack a week ago on Baghdad's Al Rasheed Hotel, home to hundreds of staff members of his Coalition Provisional Authority. The barrage killed a U.S. Army colonel and wounded 18 other people.

In response to escalating security threats, he said, the U.S.-led coalition would "accelerate the turnover of responsibility and authority to Iraqis," by stepping up the training and deployment of Iraqi security forces.

Another CPA official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said plans would be expanded to deploy 222,000 police, military, civil defense and other security-service members by next September, an increase of some 40,000 over previous plans. He said this would be accomplished, with the same $3 billion appropriated by the U.S. Congress, by changing the mix of personnel.

The number of Facilities Protective Service guards would be increased to 50,000 from the originally planned 36,000, and the border police force would be boosted from 14,000 to 26,000, he said. The number of soldiers in the projected new Iraqi army, meanwhile, would be reduced by 5,000, to 35,000, this official said.

In recent weeks, the Bush administration has increasingly stressed the need to hand over security duties to Iraqis, to relieve some of the burden on the 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. "Iraqis will be better able to tell who the bad guys are," Bremer said.

Bremer also said the Americans would "seek ways to accelerate the transfer of authority to the government of Iraq for the governance to Iraqis."

He said he hoped to make quick progress with the U.S.-created Iraqi Governing Council on the first key step, a decision on how to draw up a new constitution. "We are prepared to provide a path and a timeline with the Governing Council," he said.

American officials have variously suggested the resistance forces consist of die-hard Saddam loyalists and "foreign fighters," and frequently contend the two groups work together. Many here also believe the insurgency also draws on other Iraqi nationalists as well, people simply resentful of the U.S. occupation.

Asked whether U.S. intelligence efforts have yet determined who is behind the insurgency, the overall U.S. commander here, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, told reporters, "On who's financing and who's masterminding this whole thing, I can't give you any answers."

On Friday, The New York Times, citing unidentified senior U.S. officials, had reported that Saddam himself might be playing a significant role in coordinating and directing attacks by his loyalists.

Bremer seemed to discount that report, saying, "We have no clear indication that Saddam himself is behind these attacks. There is some sign of control over these attacks at a regional level."


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