WASHINGTON – Less than a week before Iraqis take control of their government,top officials in the State and Defense departments said Friday that insurgents are coordinating their attacks but little is know about which groups are collaborating and how they are doing it.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage described a “central nervous system” connecting various groups of Iraqi and foreign insurgents attacking U.S. forces in the region. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee,he and other witnesses warned that violence was likely to increase after the transfer of power next week.
The witnesses,Armitage,Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers,faced tough questions from Senators about the continuing violence in Iraq,which included a series of coordinated attacks Thursday that left more than 100 Iraqis dead in six cities.
Armitage said U.S. authorities “underestimated the enemy,and we didn’t destroy him in our initial attack,and he melted away,and we’re seeing him again. … I think we underestimated the degree to which this enemy had a central nervous system,and I think the attacks the other day show that it does have a central nervous system.”
Complicating matters further is the limited intelligence available about who is acting in different insurgent groups and the degree to which they are cooperating,Armitage said.
“Look,I don’t think anyone in this administration yet can tell you with a great deal of accuracy who they are and how many they are,” he said. “And how many are former regime elements and how many are [alleged Al Qaeda operative Abu Mussab al-] Zarqawi and his evildoers I can’t say. … And how many are disaffected youth who,either to make a little money or just for the sheer excitement of it,get in on the game? I can’t tell you.”
Witnesses defended troop deployments as adequate,saying additional forces would not help combat the terror-like attacks with improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers,and they were quick to defend pre-war planning.
“Well,I may have to leave some of this to the historians,but it’s interesting that very little mistakes were made and yet we find over a hundred people killed and wounded,and coordinated attacks all over Iraq,” said Sen. John McCain,R-Ariz.
Wolfowitz admitted,after being pressed by McCain,that additional troops around Najaf and Karbala over the past six or eight months might have prevented the rise of Shiite Cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr,who has led an uprising south of Baghdad since April.
“I think that it probably is the case that if we had had more American troops … Mr. Sadr might not have gotten out of control the way he did. So that is one place where they might have made a difference,” Wolfowitz said.
Wolfowitz also stressed the importance of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq until the interim government writes the country's constitution and the people elect a government. Several times,he compared the efforts in Iraq to those in Germany after World War II. He stressed the need for patience and noted that the Marshall Plan was not implemented until three years after the end of the war.
“I don’t think it is an unending commitment with no way out,but I don’t think you can predict these things any more than you could predict the timetable for a success in Germany at the end of World War II or the timetable for success in Korea after the end of that war,” he said.
But Wolfowitz's broad appeals to build Iraqi security forces before leaving the country did not satisfy some senators.
“What should they – American people want to benchmark this? How do they know that the plan is successful? How do they know it’s not deteriorating?” asked Sen. Edward M. Kennedy,D-Mass. “We’ve got to have some benchmarks that are out there,rather than the general kind of comments. They want some benchmarks to know.”
In his opening statement,Wolfowitz backed away from comments he made Tuesday criticizing reporters for being “afraid to travel very much,so they sit in Baghdad,and they publish rumors.”
News accounts,noting reporters have been kidnapped,shot at and killed,criticized the comment. Some noted that Wolfowitz was surrounded by security when he recently visited Iraq and that he flew on military planes to most meetings,rather than driving.
Friday,Wolfowitz said,“I’d also particularly like to pay tribute to the courage of the journalists who cover this war,who – I think 34 of them have given their lives.”