- The insurgency in Iraq will last at least a decade and
American troops alone will not be able to defeat it, a senior US military
officer in Baghdad has predicted.
- Speaking on the eve of Iraq's first free election for
51 years, the officer conceded: "Iraqis are the ones who will have
to defeat the insurgency, not multi-national forces.
- "It is not necessarily a growing insurgency but
it is a resilient one," he told The Telegraph. "We're looking
at a long-term insurgency, probably at a lower level of violence than now.
Historically, you look at a decade - and this is no different."
- Iraq has been put under a virtual three-day lockdown
for the elections, with unprecedented security measures bringing life to
a standstill. There is a dusk-to-dawn curfew and travel between provinces
is banned. Iraqi police officers will form an inner security ring at polling
stations, bolstered by an outer ring of Iraqi troops, and American rapid
reaction forces can be deployed if necessary.
- "Undoubtedly, insurgents are going to attack polling
sites with suicide belts wrapped around them,'' Gen John Abizaid of US
Central Command told an American newspaper. Another senior officer disclosed
that 400 Iraqi civilians, officials and security officers had been killed
so far this month as part of a campaign of intimidation against voters.
He said that insurgents had stepped up their attacks on polling stations,
with 45 targeted on Friday alone.
- Yesterday, in what coalition commanders feared was a
taste of violence to come, eight people died in a suicide bombing in the
town of Khanaqin, north-east of Baghdad. In all, at least 18 people lost
their lives at the hands of insurgents. Other attacks have been foiled,
including one in Basra.
- The Iraqi government also said that it had arrested three
senior aides of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the alleged leader of al-Qa'eda in
Iraq. Supporters of the terror mastermind, however, claimed that they had
killed a candidate from the list of Ayad Allawi, the interim prime minister,
and threatened to release a video recording of the death on the internet.
- The US military official maintained that the insurgency
was ultimately "doomed" to failure and said that a successful
vote today could lead to a noticeable reduction in violence by April. The
Iraqi forces were becoming more capable by the day, he said, and would
eventually take responsibility for security: "From having the intelligence
about who the insurgents are, to having the ability to identify and turn
them in - all those things, Iraqis do best."
- The cautiously optimistic assessment has led to the Pentagon
drawing up "best case" plans to cut US troop numbers in Iraq
by half over the next 18 months as part of a wide review of the American
military, The Telegraph has learned.
- It is hoped that a new strategy for training Iraqi troops
- in which thousands of US military advisers would be attached to local
units as "mentors" - will lead to dramatic improvements in security.
- President George W Bush is insistent that America will
not "cut and run", but the administration is keen to have an
exit strategy ready before the US mid-term elections in late 2006 - as
long as the "mentoring" strategy works.
- "The administration does not want to go into the
mid-term elections where they are now," said Dan Goure, a Pentagon
adviser and director of the Lexington Institute defence think-tank. Generals
and Pentagon civilian planners were working to cut numbers from about 120,000
- though there are 155,000 covering the elections - to 60,000.
- Up to 10,000 American troops could be assigned long-term
to Iraqi units, although US forces would still provide logistics back-up,
air support and heavy armour.
- © Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.