BAGHDAD # A document discovered during the capture of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein has enabled U.S. military authorities to assemble detailed knowledge of a key network behind as many as 14 clandestine insurgent cells, a senior U.S. military officer said Tuesday. “I think this network that sits over the cells was clearly responsible for financing of the cells, and we think we’re into that network,” said Army Brig. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, commander of the 1st Armored Division.
Acting quickly after realizing the significance of the document, which Dempsey likened to minutes of a meeting, troops of the 1st Armored Division conducted raids Sunday and Monday that netted three former Iraqi generals suspected of financing and guiding insurgent operations in the Baghdad area.
Dempsey declined to name the three officers who were detained. He said none was on the Pentagon’s list of the 55 most wanted Iraqis but said their family names were familiar to U.S. authorities, suggesting that relatives of the men had come under suspicion.
Other Iraqis cited in the document are still being sought, the general added.
Dempsey said other documents found with Hussein could end up exposing other enemy networks. While cautioning that much analysis remained to be done, he said a picture of Hussein’s relationship with the insurgency was emerging that showed the former Iraqi president playing an inspirational but largely passive role, receiving reports about guerrilla operations but not guiding attacks.
“I doubt very much that he was directing daily operations. It’s just not feasible,” Dempsey said. “But he was clearly the symbolic figure, and these networks reported to him in a way that might” be characterized as “a son reporting to his parents.”
Most of the communication, the general added, “seemed to be one-way, and it seemed to be by courier, not electronic.”
The view of Hussein as removed from the operational planning of insurgent attacks was endorsed by Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. and allied forces in Iraq.
“As I’ve always stated, repeatedly, our expectation was that Saddam was probably involved in intent and in financing, and so far that is still my belief,” Sanchez told reporters Tuesday at a news conference at the Baghdad airport.
Sanchez appeared with Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who visited the Iraqi capital for five hours Tuesday. Neither general would confirm the existence of the documents or be drawn into discussion of the intelligence windfall afforded by Hussein’s capture. Both voiced concern that disclosure of such information could interfere with efforts to track down additional Iraqis resisting the U.S.-led occupation.
But Dempsey, who spoke earlier in the day with reporters, could barely contain his excitement at the find. Acknowledging his own enthusiasm, he said that while U.S. intelligence analysts had been able to discern a number of insurgent cells in Baghdad, they had been stumped for weeks over what kind of structure might link them and provide financial support and broad guidance.
“Now we know,” he said.
In recent weeks, U.S. forces have broken up six cells, leaving another eight, Dempsey said. The suspected total number of cells, though, has fluctuated. Two weeks ago, during a visit by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Dempsey told reporters that U.S. forces had defeated four of a suspected 10 cells in Baghdad.
In all, Dempsey estimated Tuesday, the insurgents number about 1,000 in the capital, of whom 100 to 200 could be considered “passionate about it.” The others, he said, “are taking advantage of the situation,” possibly for money.
The large majority of insurgents, he said, are still believed to be Iraqis who served under Hussein # most of them former military officers, intelligence operatives and Baath Party members. Islamic militants from outside Iraq have played limited roles, often conducting any suicide missions. Fewer than 10 percent of those captured or killed have been non-Iraqis, Dempsey said.
Dempsey cautioned that much remains to be learned about the insurgency network in Baghdad and its links to other networks outside the capital. He also held out the possibility that another organization of financial backers could appear and take the place of the group discovered this week.
“It could be this was # to borrow [Hussein’s] phrase # the mother of all networks,” Dempsey said. “But we just don’t know. We’re only 48 hours into this.”
Since the announcement Sunday of Hussein’s capture, U.S. military authorities have been bracing for a possible surge in attacks. But Sanchez reported Tuesday that the level of violence against U.S. and allied forces has remained about the same as immediately before the capture, averaging fewer than 20 attacks a day.
Dempsey said that the number of attacks in the Baghdad area has actually declined, possibly reflecting a decision on the part of some insurgents “to go to ground” and hide, and see what new intelligence U.S. authorities have been able to glean.
“We’re changing some of our operations,” said Brig. Gen. Mike Scaparrotti, a deputy commander of the 1st Armored Division. He cited a shift in the tempo and location of U.S. patrols to avoid predictable patterns.
At his news conference, Myers predicted that Hussein’s capture would hurt the insurgency by undercutting its ability to recruit new members.
“When you take this leader who at one time was a popular leader in the region and find him in a hole in the ground, that is a powerful signal that you may be on the wrong team and maybe should be thinking about some other line of work,” the general said.