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The danger zones are also expanding. Attacks have been spreading beyond the Sunni triangle, the perilous swath stretching north and west from Baghdad that is the home turf of Saddam's supporters. Two weeks ago, the normally tranquil city of Kirkuk experienced a run of resistance fighters' nightly raids aimed at U.S. patrols and the local police who support them. U.S. and Iraqi officials fear that guerrillas from the triangle are trying to open a new front up north. Last week's violence in the Shi'ite stronghold of Baghdad's Sadr City, led by the rabble-rousing cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, may signal a surge of sectarian anger from a population that had been largely quiet.
Despite all that, a senior U.S. military official in Iraq insists there is no resistance, as such. "Stop right there," he said when he heard the word. "Resistance is way too strong. Look around. We're not facing some kind of organized guerrilla force. What's happening is that peace and stability are taking hold, and the more they do, noncompliant forces are becoming more desperate and radicalized."
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
In the beginning, the Bush Administration tended to blame the attacks on die-hard Saddam loyalists whom Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dubbed "deadenders." It was assumed that those fighters wanted to see Saddam restored to power. In the Sunni triangle, the remnants of the Baath Party regime are thought to still account for a sizable segment of the anti-American militants. But U.S. officials believe they are making progress against the loyalists, as more figures from the deposed regime are captured or killed. Pentagon officers say the modest scale of the attacks suggests that they are conducted by small cells operating largely on their own. "If they could launch bigger attacks," says a Central Command officer, "they would."
The Americans don't believe that the resistance is organized. Lieut. General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. ground troops in Iraq, says, "We have not established convincingly that there is national-level leadership directing this low-intensity conflict." Instead the conflict may be mutating into a more generalized, popular fight against the foreign occupation by Saddam loyalists, some foreign fighters and citizens who did not support Saddam but now resent America's presence, according to Iraqis close to the resistance. "The anti-American forces don't have any overall strategy," says Lieut. Colonel Brian Drinkwine, commander of the 1505 Parachute Infantry Regiment, which controls Fallujah, the site of many deadly attacks. "They just want America out of Iraq."