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US Troops Mount Major Effort to Suppress Armed Resistance to Presence in Iraq - 2003-06-19

More than 50 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1. The Pentagon says most of those soldiers have died in accidents, but at least 16 have been killed by hostile fire. In an effort to crackdown on groups attacking coalition forces, the military has launched dozens of raids against pockets of armed resistance.

Large-scale military raids are continuing north and west of Baghdad as thousands of U.S. troops are mounting a major effort to suppress armed resistance to the occupation.

Hundreds of Iraqis, including some high-ranking officials and soldiers from Saddam Hussein's former regime, have been captured.

U.S. defense officials say millions of dollars in cash that may have been used to finance the fighting has been recovered.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says intelligence information led to the raids, which he says are necessary to protect American troops and efforts to reconstruct Iraq.

"You have two choices. If you see puddling or pools of these people gathering through your intel, and then you've got a choice, how do you feel about that? Do you want a collection of terrorists who wish you ill to just sit there and puddle and go about their business, killing neighboring people, or not? And the - if you - then you don't do anything. If you do do something, you go in and find them and capture them or kill them. And that's what's going on. And it seems to me it's a no-brainer. It's a three-minute decision. The first two are for coffee."

Major General Ray Ordierno, commander of the Army's 4th Infantry Division now in Tikrit, says the armed resistance in Iraq is not having a major impact on most U.S. soldiers.

"We are seeing military activity throughout our zone," he said in a briefing for reporters at the Pentagon via satellite from Tikrit. "But I really qualify it as militarily insignificant. They are very small, they are very random, they are very ineffective. I believe there's three groups out there right now. Basically, there is a group of ex-Saddam Ba'ath Party loyalists. In addition, there are some Islamic fundamentalists. And then there are just some plain Iraqis who are poor and are being paid to attack U.S. forces. All of these attacks are uncoordinated. They are very ineffective and, in my mind, really do not have much effect on U.S. forces."

Secretary Rumsfeld describes the resistance as "small elements" of ten-to-20 people, not large military formations or organized networks of attackers.

While Mr. Rumsfeld says the deaths of U.S. troops causes "a deep sorrow," he believes Americans feel the sacrifices are worthwhile. "I think the American people have a very good center of gravity. And I wouldn't sell them short, if I were you. I think you'll find that they - they're seeing the mass graves that exist in that country, they are getting a good sense of the nature of that regime, and the numbers of - hundreds and thousands of people that were killed by that regime. And I believe that they feel that this is a worthwhile effort on our part, that it is a - something that is - that reflects the American spirit, and they recognize the difficulty of the task," he said.

U.S. defense officials say the burden on U.S. forces will ease as more coalition soldiers enter Iraq.

Marine Corps General Peter Pace, the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says about 20,000 troops from countries other than the United States will arrive in Iraq in the coming months.