A while back, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dubbed the insurgents who are making life so difficult for coalition forces, Iraqi authorities and anyone caught in the cross fire "dead-enders," losers from Saddam Hussein's regime with nothing left to do but go down fighting. U.S. military officials said the enemy fighters lacked organization and coordination. No one would say any of this now. American officials acknowledge that the insurgents are a potent and increasingly structured force. A former Saddam aide who is close to insurgents in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, agrees. What were once dispersed cells are now meeting weekly in the area, he tells TIME. At the first confab four weeks ago, he says, fighters traded intelligence about the location of U.S. bases, discussed future tactics and planned a series of attacks.
U.S. officials originally posited that many of the attackers were criminals Saddam had released from jail on the eve of the U.S. invasion as well as foreign terrorists allied with al-Qaeda. Now the Pentagon believes that the overwhelming majority are former Baath Party officials and other Saddam loyalists. Major General Charles Swannack Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, told the Washington Post last week he believed Saddam planned the insurgency in advance of the war. U.S. Central Command chief General John Abizaid dismissed the idea. According to the former Saddam aide, the deposed President is not leading the resistance nationally, but some cell leaders receive orders and money from him through intermediaries.
U.S. officials say leaders of the insurgents sometimes subcontract work to young, often unemployed, Iraqi males. According to some who have been captured, an attack on U.S. troops can bring as much as $1,000, five times that if G.I.s die. Abizaid said last week coalition forces are facing fewer than 5,000 insurgents in all. That figure, while based on interrogations of Iraqi fighters, is "little more than a smart guess," says a senior Pentagon official. Among the estimated 5,000, military officials say, are perhaps a couple of hundred foreigners who have infiltrated Iraq to confront the Americans. The former Saddam aide said he had met two Libyans who came to Iraq to join the battle, both of them veterans of the civil war in Sudan. CIA briefers told a group of Senators in Washington last week that fighters who have arrived recently from Syria and Iran are more skilled than those who came earlier in the year. The briefers said Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda that the U.S. targeted during the fighting last spring, is "reconstituting" in northern Iraq.