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Secret report: terrorism spreading across Iraq


Exclusive: By James Cusick Westminster Editor and David Pratt Foreign Editor

Coalition claims that Iraq may still be able to hold elections in January are seriously undermined by secret intelligence material passed to the Sunday Herald which reveals the full extent of the resistance in the country.

Far from a limited number of pro-Saddam resistance groups fighting coalition forces, well-funded cells and militias representing a spectrum of Islamic groups are now spread across Iraq.

They include Sunni resistance groups, Ba’athist groups loyal to the ousted Saddam regime, Shi’ite resistance groups, and other terrorists groups that have moved into Iraq from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Pakistan and Egypt since the occupation began in the spring of last year.

The intelligence revision of the scale of the insurgency, which puts the number of militant cells at over 50 and growing, indicates that the current level of coalition forces will struggle to cope with an increased level of insurgent activity as the election approaches next year.

The documents show that terrorist and militia activity is spreading across Iraq and is not just limited to Baghdad and Fallujah.

The increasing number of anti-coalition militias are believed to receive funds from wealthy Saudi donors and to be in receipt of funds from money placed in Syrian banks before the fall of Saddam. As much as $1 billion belonging to Saddam may have found its way to Syria before the coalition invasion.

The militia problem is compounded by criminals now rampant inside the almost lawless parts of Iraq.

The picture painted by the rise in the number of resistance groups, allied to a rise in the number of attacks on coalition forces, points to serious question marks now over Ayad Allawi’s interim government. Allawi still claims that elections will be held across all parts of Iraq and will also be fair and democratic. The United Nations have recently voiced concern over the interim Iraqi government’s plans to limit the election and yet still claim it is legitimate.

The timing of the rise in militia violence and the dangerous picture of an Iraq far from under control, is also bad news for the re-election prospects of President George Bush.

In the run-in to the US presidential election, one of Bush’s key messages is that a democratic Iraq will make the world a safer place. That claim is key to the White House’s justification for the invasion.

The more the claim looks suspect, the likelihood is that swing voters – crucial to the outcome of the election race - could turn to Bush’s challenger, Senator John Kerry.

The fears of a pro-Saddam resistance network and increased instability outlined in the intelligence reports seen by the Sunday Herald were born out by 24 hours of exceptional violence across Iraq.

Earlier yesterday a suicide car bomber killed at least 16 Iraqi policemen and injured 40 other people at a police station near a US Marine base near Ramadi, in western Iraq and in Baghdad a roadside bomb exploded near an American military convoy, injuring five soldiers.

Another suicide bomber blew up his vehicle near a checkpoint manned by Iraqi National Guards in the village of Ishaqi, close to the town of Samarra, north of Baghdad, killing four guards, and a policeman was killed by a roadside bomb in Samarra.

There was no let up in violence elsewhere across the Sunni Arab heartland of central Iraq that the interim government and Washington blame on Saddam Hussein supporters and foreign Islamic militants. One Iraqi militant group the Army of Ansar al-Sunna said it had beheaded the Iraqi man it accused of collaborating with US forces and posted pictures of the killing on the Internet.

Guerrillas also killed two Turkish truckers and wounded two in an attack on a convoy near the northern city of Mosul, police said.

In central Baghdad guerrillas fired two mortar rounds, killing two civilians and wounding one, and six U.S. soldiers were wounded when their armoured vehicle was hit by a bomb on a highway leading to the airport.

Saboteurs also bombed two oil pipelines transporting crude from northern and eastern Iraq to Baghdad’s Dora refinery.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said it had captured a lieutenant of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and five other suspects in an overnight raid on what it said was a hideout of the Jordanian militant’s network in the south of Falluja.

U.S. forces also launched air strikes on the rebel-held militant stronghold city, about 30 miles west of Baghdad, killing two people and wounding three.

24 October 2004