U.S. Claims Success in Iraq Despite Onslaught

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 19, 2005

BAGHDAD -- Using enemy body counts as a benchmark, the U.S. military claimed gains against Abu Musab Zarqawi's foreign-led fighters last week even as they mounted their deadliest attacks on Iraq's capital.

But by many standards, including increasingly high death tolls in insurgent strikes, Zarqawi's group, al Qaeda in Iraq, could claim to be the side that's gaining after 2 1/2 years of war. August was the third-deadliest month of the war for U.S. troops.

Zarqawi's guerrillas this spring and summer showed themselves to be capable of mounting waves of suicide bombings and car bombings that could kill scores at a time and paralyze the Iraqi capital. Insurgents have also launched dozens of attacks every day in other parts of Iraq and laid open claim this summer to cities and towns in the critical far west, despite hit-and-run offensives by U.S. forces.

Last week, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, declared "great successes" against insurgents. But Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, where Lynch briefed reporters, was under stepped-up security screening and U.S. guard for fear of suicide bombings. Insurgents for three days running last week managed to lob mortar rounds into the Green Zone, the heart of the U.S. and Iraqi administration.

Lynch spoke at the close of a two-day onslaught of bombings and shootings that killed nearly 190 people, the bloodiest days in Baghdad since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

Over 17 days this month, guerrillas across Iraq killed at least 116 Iraqi forces and 346 Iraqi civilians in drive-by shootings, bombings and other violence, according to Iraqi officials.

And in the west, Zarqawi's foreign and Iraqi fighters this month raised the black banners of al Qaeda in Iraq in the border city of Qaim, one of many areas in the region where Iraqi government forces have feared to take up positions or moved out. Al Qaeda fighters recently carried out public executions of men suspected of supporting U.S. forces or the Iraqi government.

"Whoever is protected by Americans is in our sight and in the range of our fire," Zarqawi's group declared in statements posted Thursday in Anbar province's capital of Ramadi, which along with nearby Fallujah is a major stronghold of the estimated 30,000 U.S. forces in the western province. The statement appeared hours after al Qaeda rocket and mortar strikes on U.S. military installations in Ramadi killed one Marine.

The same morning, scores of al Qaeda fighters streamed into the streets of Ramadi, taking up positions with new automatic weapons. Witnesses said one group of insurgents proudly displayed a new rocket launcher that put U.S. armored vehicles in the glowing red beam of its targeting laser.

The fact that American forces still attack entire cities and towns in the west is a sign of how much territory remains out of U.S. and Iraqi government control, said Abu Hatem Dulaimi, a member of the Zarqawi-allied Ansar al-Sunna Army.

"I can say that the legend of the undefeated U.S. Army is gone, owing to our rockets and mines, which are separating them from it day after day," Dulaimi said in a telephone interview. "If they bet that time will be the way to end the resistance, they are wrong, because we are stronger since a year ago or maybe more."

Twenty-five members of Ansar al-Sunna killed themselves and others in suicide attacks last month, he said, and 53 volunteers for suicide attacks have arrived since.

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