Los Angeles Times
3:23 PM PST, January 7, 2005
WASHINGTON — Bombs used with deadly accuracy to kill U.S. troops in Iraq have recently become more powerful, the latest shift in tactics employed by the insurgency, Pentagon officials said today.
Army Brig. Gen. David Rodriquez said that insurgents have greatly increased the destructive power of roadside bombs by packing more explosives into the munitions, which the military calls "improvised explosive devices."
"We've noticed in the recent couple of weeks that the IEDs are all being built more powerfully, with more explosive effort in a smaller number of IEDs," Rodriquez told reporters.
On Thursday, a roadside bomb in northern Baghdad killed seven soldiers riding in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, one of the most heavily armored vehicles in the U.S. military.
Rodriguez said that it was too early to draw conclusions about the increased power of the bombs, but noted that the total number of attacks against U.S. troops have decreased in recent weeks. However, attacks have become more potent.
Pentagon officials also said retired Army Gen. Gary Luck is heading up an assessment team being sent to Iraq to review the progress of Iraq's fledgling security forces.
Luck will conduct a comprehensive review of the Iraqi troops and present conclusions to Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and to Rumsfeld.
Top U.S. officials have given mixed reviews to the Iraqi troops' combat performance, saying that the biggest problem has been developing a reliable officer corps that can lead troops in battle.
Pentagon officials say that select Iraqi units performed well during recent operations in Fallouja and Samarra, but other units have cut and run in the face of intense combat.
"There's areas where [the Iraqi forces have] been overwhelmed by their opposition and have had to step back and live to fight another day," said Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita. "And there's areas where they've just plain not participated in the fight."
Yet DiRita said that the overall trend in the development of Iraqi forces is positive, with the troops taking an increased role in the security of their country.
His positive assessment was in sharp contrast to the one issued a day earlier by Brent Scowcroft, who was the national security advisor in the White House of President George H. W. Bush.
Scowcroft warned that the Iraqi election this month could further inflame the conflict and that rather than leading to stability, the election could increase the risk of civil war and further alienate Iraq's Sunni Muslim population.
President Bush, speaking today with reporters in the Oval Office, rejected Scowcroft's warning, saying that the election, scheduled to take place in barely three weeks, would be "such an incredibly hopeful experience for the Iraqi people."
Asked if he shared Scowcroft's concerns, Bush told reporters, "quite the opposite."
The president said the election was "a historical marker for our Iraq policy," and added, "We're making great progress."
"I suspect if you were asking me questions 18 months ago and I said there's going to be elections in Iraq, you would have had trouble containing yourself from laughing out loud at the president," Bush said.
The president acknowledged that in parts of four of Iraq's 18 provinces, "terrorists are trying to stop people from voting."
The commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, said Thursday that conditions in significant areas of the four provinces were not secure enough for voting.
"I understand that parts of the Sunni area are being targeted by these killers," the president said during a photo session in the Oval Office at which he announced the leadership of a commission to study U.S. tax policy. "And their message is that if you vote, we'll kill you. But the real message is that we can't stand democracy.
"And you know, if the free world steps back and lets these people have their way, it'll be 'we can't stand democracy here,' and then 'we can't stand democracy there,' and we'll never address the root causes of terror and hatred, which is frustration caused by tyranny."
The election, scheduled for Jan. 30, will elect a transitional national assembly to write a new constitution and select a new government. The leading Sunni political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, has withdrawn from the election, saying it should be delayed until security improves in Sunni regions of the country. Interim President Ghazi Ajil Yawer, a Sunni, suggested this week that the election might need to be delayed.
But the Bush administration and interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi have contended that the election should be held on schedule.
Times staff writer Ronald Brownstein contributed to this report.