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Growing Danger in Iraq

June 24, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Next, to Margaret Warner. She talked this afternoon with “Newsweek” correspondent Rod Nordland in Baghdad.

MARGARET WARNER: Rod Nordland, welcome. The Pentagon said today for the first time that these attacks on coalition forces may be part of an organized resistance. How does it look to you from your reporting on the ground on that question?

ROD NORDLAND: Well, it looks very organized. In the great majority of these cases, the perpetrators have escaped. In many of the cases, they escaped without even taking casualties themselves. Most of the attacks were where they would kill a single American soldier in some sort of ambush, or by using a ruse or something of that sort, and then make a clean getaway. In the most recent case today, it’s pretty apparent. The two attacks in Amarah, on British soldiers within a few hours, a few miles apart, it just all seems increasingly organized.

MARGARET WARNER: The attacks in Amarah, that was unusual, wasn’t it, to have attacks in the Shiite portion in the south?

ROD NORDLAND: Well, that’s right. And it’s the first time since April that any British soldiers have taken casualties. They don’t even wear body armor, unlike most of the American soldiers in the theater. And that area is a Shiite area. Nonetheless, there have been a number of incidents there in recent days. Some of our own drivers were chased by armed men in uniform, on that very road close to where the British were killed today.

MARGARET WARNER: The officials at the Pentagon said today– and they have continued to say– that most of the resistance is coming from Ba’ath Party loyalists. Does that jibe with what you’re reporting and those of your other news reporters are showing?

ROD NORDLAND: Well, it certainly makes sense. In most of these cases, the perpetrators haven’t been caught, so nobody can really say for sure who they are. But you have to remember the Ba’athist Party began as an underground organization, organized in small cells, and it’s an easy matter for them to go back to that. In fact, we’ve had documents that have been discovered that actually lay out a plan for fighting the occupation in just this way, in small, isolated attacks spread over a large area, by looting, by attacking infrastructure. Attacking infrastructure is the other big thing that’s been going on with increasing frequency, especially in the last couple of weeks– attacks on oil pipelines and so on.

MARGARET WARNER: And you’ve seen these documents?

ROD NORDLAND: We have seen these documents. There’s some debate about how authentic they are, but they lay out in great detail– and these are documents we got several weeks ago– they lay out in great detail what the party loyalists should do: Things like encourage looting, attack pipelines, attack American soldiers, you know, with surprise attacks in small groups, in small armed groups– all those kinds of things that we began to see in the last couple of weeks with much greater frequency.

MARGARET WARNER: There was also an attack today on the mayor’s office in Fallujah, where it’s been reported, anyway, Iraqis who had been cooperating with the U.S. were working. Is that becoming typical, that kind of attack, Iraqis on Iraqis?

ROD NORDLAND: Yes, just in the last ten days or so, almost coinciding with the Pentagon’s Operation Desert Scorpion, you know, in which they’re trying to round up more regime loyalists. There has been a series of attacks on those who are cooperating with American forces. Some Iraqis have been killed in a couple of those attacks.

MARGARET WARNER: Tell us more about Operation Desert Scorpion. These are the sweeps in the areas northwest of Baghdad, the so-called Sunni belt, to go after pockets of resistance. Do you have any sense of how effective they’re being?

ROD NORDLAND: Well, they’re certainly rounding up lots of people. In several instances, we’ve actually made appointments to interview people that had… that we thought maybe had some knowledge of regime officials and so on, and by the time we got to the interview, they had been arrested. I mean, the rest are quite frequent. In the last few days, they slowed down a bit. And it does seem that the increased opposition activity and the increased attacks on the occupation forces has coincided with that. The most important thing, of course, is the arrest of Gen. Tikriti, the number four or five on the most wanted list, who, it seems clear, gave them a lot of information that they’ve followed up in some of these roundups. And at the same time, it’s almost as if the Saddam loyalists are stepping up their tempo of attacks to respond and to show that they’re not completely defeated– or maybe another way of looking at it is, they’re becoming even more desperate.

MARGARET WARNER: And these attacks on the oil and gas infrastructure, the looting, the attacks on the pipeline, how much impact is that having on coalition efforts to rebuild that Iraqi industry?

ROD NORDLAND: It’s had a tremendous effect in the South, in the oil fields near Basra, in the north, and even here in Baghdad. The last two days, there’s no electricity, and by some accounts, that’s because of an attack on a pumping station, some sort of pumping station that provided fuel to generating plants that served Baghdad. And two days without electricity when it’s 120 degrees out, it certainly affects everybody’s ability to work and to get things done.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Rod Nordland, thanks very much. Thanks for joining us.

ROD NORDLAND: You’re welcome.