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Terrorism Now Top Threat in Iraq, says Pentagon - 2003-08-21

The general in charge of U.S. forces in Iraq says terrorism is now the top threat there with an al-Qaida linked group established in Baghdad and foreign fighters crossing over the border from Syria.

General John Abizaid, the commander of the U.S. military's Central Command, now concedes terrorism is the biggest threat to stability in Iraq. And he tells reporters at the Pentagon coalition soldiers are working hard with Iraq's new security forces to tackle it.

"Clearly it is emerging as the number one security threat and we are applying a lot of time, energy and resources to identify it, understand it and deal with it," he said.

Appearing together with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, General Abizaid says one group that is a part of the terrorist problem is Ansar al-Islam, which U.S officials characterize as a terrorist group with links to al-Qaida.

General Abizaid says the group appears to have shifted its forces from northern Iraq to the capital, Baghdad, which has been rocked by a series of apparent terrorist bombings like this week's bloody attack on U.N. headquarters. He says that in addition to Ansar al-Islam, foreign fighters are entering the country from Syria.

"We think they've [Ansar al-Islam] migrated from the north down into Baghdad, and we think that they're established there," he said. "It's not good for us when they get established in an urban area, as you can well appreciate. And we know that there are other foreign fighters, and we've captured many of them, that have come across from Syria. The lines of the infiltration are difficult to stop because of the wide expanse of the border. But we're working very hard at getting a handle on what we need to do to stop infiltration there in conjunction with Iraqis."

Still, General Abizaid says better intelligence, and not more troops, is the key to ending the terrorist threat.

And for his part, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld insists the terrorists will not succeed. "The coalition will not be dissuaded from its mission, not by sabotage, not by snipers and not by terrorists with car bombs," he said.

Both men pointed to recent coalition successes in Iraq, including the just-announced capture of the number five man on the coalition's list of the 55 most wanted former regime officials, General Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam Hussein's who is perhaps better known as "Chemical Ali" for his role in using chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds.

Neither General Abizaid nor Secretary Rumsfeld offer any details of his capture. But General Abizaid hints "Chemical Ali" may have been involved in anti-American activity.