WASHINGTON – U.S. forces have “brought to their knees” the former Saddam Hussein (news – web sites) regime holdouts who formed the backbone of the anti-occupation insurgency in areas north and northeast of Baghdad, the American commander responsible for security in that region said Thursday.
“The former regime elements we’ve been combating have been brought to their knees,” Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, told reporters at the Pentagon (news – web sites) in a satellite video news conference from his headquarters in the city of Tikrit.
In December Odierno’s forces led the raid that captured former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein near Tikrit, his tribal home.
“Capturing Saddam was a major operational and psychological defeat for the enemy,” he said. “But a more important result of his capture is the increase in accurate information brought forward by Iraqis allowing us to conduct numerous, precise raids to kill or capture” those who are financing and producing homemade explosives used to kill and injure American troops.
Odierno’s comments came as insurgents killed two U.S. troops and critically wounded a third in a barrage of mortar fire at an American military encampment in central Iraq (news – web sites). And, in separate incidents, gunmen killed several other Iraqis working for the U.S.-led coalition.
Odierno, whose troops are preparing to depart Iraq in several weeks, said that although the former Baath Party loyalists are no longer a major threat, the nature of the anti-American violence could shift, fueled by what he called a nationalistic motive to get U.S. troops to leave.
He defined the nationalistic threat as being posed by “those that really just want Iraqis to run their own country,” and “elements that are going to try to use Iraqi nationalism to say we need to get the Americans and the coalition forces out of Iraq, and they will continue to attack us.”