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Occasional guerilla attacks part of larger strategy among Iraqi insurgents

WASHINGTON—Although the Bush administration describes the guerrillas who are attacking the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq as holdovers from Saddam Hussein's regime and foreign terrorists, some top officials say the attackers have goals and tactics that make both political and military sense.

"These aren't just a bunch of crazies who want to die for Allah or Saddam," said one U.S. official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because his remarks aren't approved and are at odds with some of the administration's public positions. "There's a method to their madness, and we should not underestimate them."

The attackers appear to have five major, interlocking objectives, although officials say those could change with events in Iraq. For example, said two officials, the guerrillas might try to step up their attacks in southern Iraq if the United States persuades some Shiite leaders there to support American plans for a transition to Iraqi self-government.

"That would serve two purposes," said one intelligence official. "It would give us an even larger area to protect and it would make the Shiites think twice about supporting us when we can't even keep order in their neighborhood."

For now, the officials said, the guerrillas want to:

_Intensify their attacks against American soldiers, as guerrillas did on Sunday near the central city of Samarra, to provoke and frighten U.S. troops into using excessive force, harassing Iraqi civilians and confining themselves to compounds and convoys where they have little chance to win Iraqi hearts and minds.

_Attack foreign soldiers and civilians, especially those from nations such as Spain, Japan and South Korea where there's little public support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, to deter their governments from assisting the American-led coalition.

_Widen their attacks to sow doubts among ordinary Iraqis about whether the United States will prevail in Iraq, or whether Saddam Hussein's Baath Party might return and settle scores with those who assisted the Americans.

_Attack Iraqi policemen, soldiers and technocrats to discourage them from helping rebuild the country and restore security.

_Attack American civilian contractors to discourage them and their employers from helping rebuild Iraq's infrastructure.

The intelligence officials said that so far there's little evidence that Saddam, his former top aides or Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist organization is masterminding the attacks. Instead, they said, local groups appear to be operating with a great deal of autonomy and without risking regular communications or travel that could give them away.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.