- RAMADI, Iraq (Reuters) --
The U.S. military commander of Iraq's biggest province said Thursday American
troops were virtually powerless to stop escalating booby-trap and bomb
attacks on their convoys.
- "Frankly there is little that we can do as far as
force protection," said Col. David Teeples, commander of the 3rd Armored
Cavalry Regiment in al-Anbar province, home to some of Iraq's most restive
and anti-American cities.
- Over the past two weeks, his forces have witnessed an
escalation in attacks by improvised explosive devices -- TNT, plastic explosive
and propane cylinders hooked to electrical wires triggered by remote control
- U.S. troops have responded by stepping up highway patrols
in an effort to stop the bloodshed.
- "Any piles of sand, bags, garbage, tires, anything
that may be close to the road is going to be taken very cautiously,"
Teeples told Reuters in an interview in his command center in one of Saddam
Hussein's former palaces on the edge of Ramadi.
- "It is going to be cleared with a bulldozer or there
will be action by the convoy against those that may be close enough to
command detonate that."
- Guerrilla attacks have killed 52 U.S. troops since President
Bush declared major combat over on May 1. A number of the attacks have
taken place in al-Anbar province.
- U.S. military officials have blamed the violence on former
Baath party members and guerrillas loyal to Saddam, who was toppled by
a U.S.-led invasion on April 9.
- Teeples said about 25 hardcore Baath party officials
in the towns of Ramadi, Falluja and Habbaniya were financing attacks.
- CONSTANT ATTACKS
- Ramadi is hit nearly every night by mortar attacks and
U.S. military convoys frequently come under fire from rocket-propelled
grenades (RPGs) by day.
- "We have been attacked by subversive elements and
I believe that these subversive elements are young males that can be paid
a lot of money and receive weapons from former Baathists and former regime
loyalists," Teeples said.
- "It is inviting for them to set up an explosive
device or to shoot an RPG at a coalition force because they are going to
get paid a great deal of money for doing it."
- Teeples said young men hard up for cash and pro-Saddam
guerrillas with military training were behind the bloodshed.
- "I think that there are some that are unemployed
that are just not happy with their situation and they are told by subversive
leaders that they can make some money and get rid of coalition forces at
the same time," he said.
- "I think there are also some Saddam Fedayeen, some
people that are knowledgeable of weapons, knowledgeable of how to fire
and how to set up explosives that are also being coerced by some of the
regime loyalists that have money."
- Teeples said that so far his troops had arrested more
than 200 Iraqis suspected of attacking or planning attacks on U.S. soldiers.
Earlier in the day, he offered a $500 reward for any shoulder-fired anti-aircraft
weapons handed in by Iraqis, after unsuccessful attacks on U.S. aircraft.
- "Eventually someday there is the hope that we will
be able to fly civilian aircraft into Iraq. Since civilian aircraft do
not have defense mechanisms we would like to get anti-aircraft shoulder-fired
weapons off of the individuals who may have them," he said.
- © Reuters 2003. All rights reserved.