The Americans talk of criminal and subversive elements but this is a guerrilla war. They are not safe anywhere

By Robert Fisk in Baghdad

21 July 2003

In official US military documents, they are called "attackers" or just plain "Iraqis".

In the press handouts printed by the occupation authorities, they are - in the grand style of Soviet propaganda during the Afghan war - "subversive elements".

When Operation Soda Mountain ended on 17 July, the propaganda boys of the "Coalition Press Information Centre" outdid even the Russians by boasting that the American raids had "successfully achieved the objectives of neutralising subversive individuals".

But alas they did not.

For all the talk of detentions and arms finds - Soda Mountain led to 611 arrests and the reported discovery of 4,297 mortar rounds and 1,346 rocket-propelled grenades - the Iraqi guerrilla war against the United States is becoming increasingly deadly.

On Saturday, for example, a US military map of Baghdad violence showed 10 security "incidents" over the previous 48 hours. They included the discovery of mortar shells tied together on roads near Baghdad airport and a mortar round fired at the occupation army at its base inside the perimeter of the international airport.

They also included the discovery of a dead Iraqi and a wounded man who had been preparing yet another bomb near the airport, this time made of an 82mm shell, wire and blasting caps.

A section of a report on 19 July shows just how frequent these guerrilla attacks have become. "Iqtissadiyin: 19/07 morning. Attack on CF [coalition forces]," it says. "Three RPG [rocket-propelled grenades] fired at CF convoy.

"Iqtissadiyin: 18/07 about 00:30. Attack on CF. Small arms fired at CF from overpass and subsequently from nearby houses ...

"Hurriyah: 18/07 morning. Attacks on CF. Small arms fired at CF soldier on duty at gas station, four assailants killed when CF returned fire.

"Ash Shabab: 18/07 morning. Attack against Iraqi civilians. Suspect fired three shots at Baghdad Hotel; the vehicle used by the assailant was already spotted while involved into [sic] hostile surveillance of CF position."

And so on and on. In one 24-hour period, the UN recorded six attacks across Iraq, including an RPG fired at an American camp near Mosul, an assault on an Iraqi police station in Muqidiyah, north-east of Baghdad, a heavy machine- gun fired at US troops during a medical evacuation near Karbala and a car that tried to ram an American checkpoint near Qatum.

One of the more disturbing elements of the American reports is the separation of incidents involving US troops and the violence inflicted on civilians or Iraqi police.

On the attack at the police station, the gunman is referred to as a "criminal". Assaults on Americans are described as "significant incidents" while assaults on Iraqi civilians - during the theft of their cars, for example - are referred to under the simple heading of "crime". American lives, the underlying tenor of these reports seems to be, are more important than innocent Iraqi lives.

Another security report - this time from the UN - records the third attempt by guerrillas to shoot down an American helicopter near Karbala with an anti-aircraft gun. The latest incident occurred only hours after a ground-to-air missile was fired at an American C-130 military cargo aircraft at Baghdad airport, an attack that was publicly acknowledged.

Where the gunmen hide so big a weapon as an anti-aircraft gun is not recorded.

But the message of all this information - most of it unreported by the media - is that the Americans are no longer safe anywhere in Iraq: not at Baghdad airport, which they captured with so much fanfare in early April, not at their military bases, not in the streets of central Baghdad or in their helicopters or on the country roads. A regular guerrilla war has broken out in Iraq. And it's getting ever more out of control.