BAGHDAD, Iraq—Hezbollah terrorists from Lebanon, who have been battling Israel for the past two decades, appear to be among the Arab fighters from several Middle East nations who are seeking to undermine the American pacification and reconstruction of Iraq, the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq said Friday.
"People who have been trained are coming in here" and are either directing or participating in the kinds of truck bombings that have rocked Baghdad and the holy Shiite city of Najaf in recent weeks, said Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.
His remark to reporters who are traveling with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on a three-day visit to Iraq dovetailed with Rumsfeld's comments Thursday that Lebanese, along with Syrians, were prominent among an unknown number of foreign fighters who have crossed the border to wreak havoc.
Rumsfeld on Friday toured U.S. military installations in Mosul and Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown.
Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the commander of the 4th Infantry Division, headquartered in Tikrit, said he thought the former dictator was hiding in his military sector.
"I believe he is moving constantly around our area," Odierno said. "If he makes a mistake, we are going to get him."
In other developments:
_Sanchez reported for the first time that when the 101st Airborne Division goes home to Fort Campbell, Ky., within the next few months, it probably will replaced in the Nineveh province area of northern Iraq by a force to be recruited from other nations.
While saying that no more American troops are needed in Iraq, Rumsfeld has said he would welcome additions to the 16,000 international troops who now are serving mostly in southern Iraq. Sanchez's remark appeared to answer the question of what those soldiers would do.
_American reconstruction czar L. Paul Bremer, who's led the effort to recruit 55,000 Iraqis for security forces, revealed that the United States hopes to have 90,000 to 100,000 Iraqis in uniform within the next year and to recruit 135,000 over a longer period.
Bremer said these would comprise 20,000 soldiers in a three-division Iraqi army, 15,000 personnel in the Civil Defense Forces, 75,000 police officers and 25,000 border guards.
_In Washington, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., wrote a letter to President Bush asking him to replace Rumsfeld and his top deputy, Paul Wolfowitz. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and civilians who work for them directed much of the planning for U.S. involvement in Iraq.
Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz "have made repeated and serious miscalculations—miscalculations that have been extremely costly to the American people in terms of lives lost, degradation of our military and intelligence ability to defend against terrorists in countries outside of Iraq, isolation from our traditional allies and unexpected demands on our budget that are crowding out other priorities," Obey wrote.
He also said civilians who worked for Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz in the Pentagon had made decisions on Iraq that were contrary to the opinions of the U.S. intelligence agencies and the uniformed military.
Rumsfeld, in his first visit to Iraq since the last stages of the five-week war in April, sought to showcase what he called the major progress that has been made over the last four months in restoring stability and beginning to remake Iraq economically and politically.
In a speech that was videotaped so it could be shown to the estimated 70 percent to 80 percent of Iraqis who have TV sets, Rumsfeld said, "The changes that have taken place are extraordinary."
"Baghdad is bustling with commerce. Universities and hospitals are open. A free press is flourishing. Iraqi banks have begun accepting applications for small business loans."
Rumsfeld took note of the continuing violence, blaming it on "regime remnants" who "see any remote chance of returning to power slip further and further away."
Bremer, talking to American and Arab reporters, said $30 million had been spent on about 6,000 reconstruction programs, most by the U.S. military and many costing as little as $2,000 each.
He said 1,000 schools would be returned to operating condition by the time classes resumed in three weeks, and that all 240 hospitals in Iraq were up and running, along with 90 percent of health clinics.
On a trip by Black Hawk helicopter to the northern city of Mosul, Rumsfeld and Bremer met the newly elected mayor, who said power-sharing between ethnic Kurds and other Iraqis was amicable, albeit under the watchful eye of the 101st Airborne.
Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of that division's 21,000 soldiers in Iraq, told the civilian leaders that in addition to undertaking major projects such as reopening an irrigation pumping station for Iraq's wheat-growing region, his soldiers had reopened an amusement park and outfitted 160 soccer teams.
Sanchez said that despite "spectacular" acts of terrorism, such as last week's deadly bombing in Najaf, which killed a leading Shiite cleric, the number of attacks on U.S. troops had declined from 20 to 25 per day in June and July to about 15.
But as the number of attacks has decreased, their sophistication has increased, possibly reflecting an influx of trained terrorists.
(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Sumana Chatterjee contributed to this report.)
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): RUMSFELD