U.S. military commanders are downplaying the overall threat posed to Operation Iraqi Freedom by thousands of Fedayeen Saddam paramilitary forces. But some officials are accusing war planners of failing to heed warnings about the extent of their likely resistance as well as their brutality.
Pentagon military officials remain confident U.S.-led coalition forces will eventually defeat the Iraqi forces arrayed against them as they drive towards Baghdad in a bid to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
But some defense sources are now saying top Bush administration officials did not pay adequate attention to intelligence estimates on the strength of the Fedayeen Saddam and its potential impact on Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Senior military officials say the Fedayeen Saddam, Saddam's "Men of Sacrifice," number more than 15,000. They were founded by Saddam's son Uday in 1994 with members recruited in areas known for their loyalty to the Iraqi leader.
Together with fighters from the ruling Baath Party and other loyalist security forces, the Fedayeen have launched several attacks on coalition units in recent days. They have also used what Pentagon officials describe as deceptive tactics to unsettle coalition troops and employed torture and assassination to hold Iraqi civilians hostage and, at times, to force them to fight.
In brief remarks to reporters Thursday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld discussed what he says are the Fedayeen's vicious activities.
"They go into these cities and shoot people and threaten people and insist that they not surrender and not rise up. And they're vicious," he said. "They left somebody in the center of Baghdad not too long ago with his tongue pulled out, until he bled to death, cut his tongue out."
Mr. Rumsfeld went on to question whether they are having much of an effect on the war and to challenge suggestions that he has been surprised by the Fedayeen's repressive measures.
But Mr. Rumsfeld conceded they are having an impact by acting as what he terms "death squad enforcers," preventing ordinary Iraqis from welcoming allied soldiers as liberators.
Despite this, one senior intelligence official says administration officials appeared so firmly convinced that all Iraqi resistance would collapse once the coalition invaded that they effectively ignored the role of the Fedayeen.