US Commander - Troops
In Iraq Powerless Against Bombs

By Michael Georgy

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 devices.
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.
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.
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