Los Angeles Times
Few Foreigners Among Insurgents
Judging from fighters captured in Fallouja, all but about 5% are Iraqi, U.S.
officials say.
By John Hendren
Times Staff Writer
November 16, 2004

CAMP FALLOUJA, Iraq - The battle for the city of Fallouja is giving U.S.
military commanders some insight into this country's insurgency, painting a
portrait of a home-grown uprising dominated by Iraqis, not foreign fighters.

Of the more than 1,000 men between the ages of 15 and 55 who were captured
in intense fighting in the center of the insurgency over the last week, just
15 are confirmed foreign fighters, Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. ground
commander in Iraq, said Monday.

There was evidence that an organized force of foreign fighters was present.
One dead guerrilla bore Syrian identification. A number of insurgents
believed to be foreigners wore similar black "uniforms," each with black
flak vests, webbed gear and weapons superior to those of their Iraqi allies.

But despite an intense focus on the network of Jordanian-born militant Abu
Musab Zarqawi by U.S. and Iraqi officials, who have insisted that most
Iraqis support the country's interim government, American commanders said
their best estimates of the proportion of foreigners among their enemies is
about 5%.

The overwhelming majority of insurgents, several senior commanders said, are
drawn from the tens of thousands of former government employees whose
sympathies lie with the toppled regime of Saddam Hussein, unemployed
"criminals" who find work laying roadside bombs for about $500 each and
Iraqi religious extremists.

"Over time, it's the former regime elements that are the threat," said Gen.
Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who joined Casey
for a visit to bases in Baghdad and outside Fallouja before meeting with
interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Before the battle, U.S. officials frequently stressed the role of foreign
fighters in Fallouja. Last week, as the battle got underway, Myers told
reporters that the city was "a major safe haven for former regime elements
and foreign fighters, in particular Zarqawi and his folks."

It was not clear how many foreign fighters might have slipped out of
Fallouja before the U.S. military began its assault early last week and how
many may still be fighting in the southern neighborhoods of the city, where
clashes continue.

A loose coalition of foreign and domestic fighters has shown few signs of a
centralized command, said senior American defense officials. The Iraqi
government and the U.S. military telegraphed the Fallouja offensive with
calls for civilians to leave the guerrilla stronghold. But despite those
early warnings, the insurgents failed to cut off military supply routes and
to reinforce isolated fighters, Myers said.

"There is not someone in charge," Casey said. "There's collaboration between
the Islamic extremists, between the foreign fighters and between the former
regime elements. And it's a marriage of convenience."

U.S. forces also have found large caches of arms in Fallouja containing a
wide variety of weapons, including car bombs ready to be deployed, bomb
factories and heavy weapons, scattered among houses, businesses and other

Commanders cautioned that identifying foreign militants is no exact science.
Of the 3,000 fighters that some officials believe were holed up in the city
at the dawn of the battle, by U.S. estimates at least 1,600 are dead.
However, estimates of the death toll among insurgents have varied widely;
many bodies remain hidden in rubble or have not yet been recovered in the

Most of the insurgents "sanitized" themselves, officials said, removing
identification and clues to their nationality.

"It's hard to tell," Casey said. American, Iraqi and British troops "are
resorting to looking at the Korans in their back pocket and trying to figure
out where it was published to try to get some sense of nationality."

Allawi acknowledged in an interview Monday that the insurgents were largely
made up of his countrymen, but continued to assert that foreign fighters had
often been responsible for suicide car bombings and other spectacular
attacks that he said were designed to derail elections scheduled for

"We don't have exact numbers and exact figures, but always the foreign
elements, terrorists, are used for something else" than the tasks chosen for
Iraqi insurgents, Allawi said, citing car bombings in particular. "The
terrorists are trying to hurt the multinational force and us, to disrupt the
police, to disrupt the army, the national guard."

He called those assaults a national "campaign of intimidation."

Allawi has firsthand knowledge of that campaign. Three members of his family
were recently kidnapped by insurgents. The two female relatives were
released Sunday, Iraqi officials confirmed, but a male cousin remained in
insurgent hands.

"The insurgents will kidnap family members, they will murder government
officials. They will murder police. We have found that some of the most
effective leaders in the national guard or the Iraqi police are murdered or
assassinated," said Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski, commander of the 1st
Marine Division. "I think we're seeing right now the last stand of the real

The insurgents' goal, added Casey, is to keep minority Sunni Muslims - many
of whom sympathize with Saddam Hussein, their former Sunni president - from
participating in the January election process, undermining its legitimacy.

"They've had to go to the intimidation to keep the Sunni from participating
in the political process, because they were losing," Casey said.

U.S. and Iraqi strategists plan to respond by supplementing Iraqi police
with Iraqi national guard or army troops, possibly supported by U.S. forces.

The foreign fighters that have joined the insurgency appear to have largely
crossed through Syria, military officials said. A small number of Syrians
have been captured, along with two Moroccans caught on the first night of
the offensive last week. A campaign of intimidation has prompted Iraqi
border guards to abandon their posts, U.S. defense officials said.

Iraqi government and American authorities alike blame the Syrian government.

"It's hard to believe Syria doesn't know it's going on," Myers said.

"Whether or not they're supporting it is another question. That said, you
could say if Syria wanted to stop it they could stop it, or stop it

At the urging of U.S. forces, the Iraqi government shut down the border
crossing to Syria at the western Iraqi city of Qusaybah and allowed only
commercial vehicles to pass at one Syrian crossing and one Jordanian site,
Natonski said. Men of fighting age have not been allowed to cross, he added.

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