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Anti-US resistance spreads through Iraq
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

SULAIMANIYA, northern Iraq - As attacks against US targets in central Iraq increase, many factors in the north and south are combining to add to the woes of the US occupiers, the US-appointed administration, and their supporters.

Intelligence sources in the northern city of Sulaimaniya say that those resisting the US presence are on a steep learning curve and that their attacks will become more organized and ruthless.

According to the local sources, a terror network in northern cities, including Kirkuk and Mosul, is set to begin operations against US troops and those Iraqis who support them. News of the northern network emerged during meetings earlier this week between local intelligence officials of Iraqi Kurdistan and US intelligence.

At the same time, the sources say that several members of the Pakistan-based Ansarul Islam militant group have been arrested in Sulaimaniya and Irbil, where they were been holed up along with foreign comrades. Most of the group's members have now moved to Mosul and Kirkuk.

There has been a dramatic increase in attacks against US forces, and casualties, in the past few days. Intelligence officials believe that the failure of US troops to apprehend the attackers is due to the lack of a local intelligence network. Work has now commenced on setting up a nation-wide infrastructure to counter the attacks. Initially, Peshmergas (Kurdish militia) will patrol the Kurdish region, while the pace of recruitment for the Iraqi army has been intensified in the cities of Mosul, Basra and others. According to a US official, the idea is to raise a force of 12,000 which would serve as a paramilitary force under the US military and help the foreign coalition forces hunt down members of the resistance movement.

In the south of Iraq, meanwhile, the growing number of anti-US demonstrations is seen as a possible spark for violence. A US official says: "The Islamic groups in Karbala and other southern cities have been advised to keep their demonsrations peaceful and restricted. If these demonstrations continue to be violent and to be held every day, US forces would consider them as a threat for them and would be justified in taking action."

According to US authorities the emerging personality of firebrand Moqtada Sadr, a Shi'ite imam, is widely seen as a new threat in southern Iraq. The new administration is skeptical about his real designs as he does not seem to be interested in politics but to be motivated by extreme religious obsessions. His followers consider him a mehdi (a promised messiah before the arrival of Christ, according to Islamic faith) and he seems to encourage these trends. There are suspicions that he is stirring up anti-US sentiment with his vehement speeches to further his religious ends.

Since US President George W Bush declared the end of the war, anti-US resistance has taken on new faces. Trained Republican Guards and fedayeen have regrouped, and Sunni Islamic groups have formed circles of resistance. So far, the Shi'ites have been watching and waiting. The belief had been that if they were given adequate representation in a new administration, they would be unlikely to go against US interests. However, the emegence of a figure like Moqtada Sadr reveals that there are many ambitious men in the southern region who have big obsessions and designs and they are growing in appeal in the Shi'ite community.

Once an anti-US trend takes root in southern Iraq, the security of US troops will be seriously in question. This is the most haunting question now confronting the US forces in Iraq.

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Jul 30, 2003

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