Tuesday, May 10, 2005

HoustonChronicle.com - U.S. shifting focus to foreign fighters in Iraq

HoustonChronicle.com - U.S. shifting focus to foreign fighters in IraqRecent surge in suicide attacks spurs move to fortify borders
By BRADLEY GRAHAM
Washington Post

BAGHDAD, IRAQ - Senior U.S. commanders say their view of the Iraqi insurgency has begun to shift, with higher priority being given to combating foreign fighters and Iraqi jihadists.

This shift comes in response to the recent upsurge in suicide attacks and other developments that indicate a more prominent role in the insurgency by these radical groups, the commanders say.

Previously, U.S. authorities depicted the insurgency as dominated largely by what the Pentagon has dubbed "former regime elements" — a combination of one-time Baath Party loyalists and Iraqi military and security service officers intent on restoring Sunni rule.

Since the Jan. 30 elections, this segment of the insurgency has appeared to pull back from the fight, at least for a while, reassessing strategies and exploring a possible political deal with the new government, senior U.S. officers here say.

Acting on the assumption that foreign fighters and Iraqi extremists might now pose the greater and more immediate threat to security in Iraq, U.S. commanders have given orders in recent days to reposition some U.S. ground forces and intelligence assets in northwestern Iraq to further fortify Iraq's border with Syria and block suspected infiltration routes. They are also stepping up efforts to go after leading bomb-makers and key organizers of suicide attacks.

In interviews, several commanders and intelligence officers cautioned that their shift was still tentative and based more on fragmentary information than on solid, specific evidence. They said assessments differ among U.S. intelligence specialists.

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