A senior U.S. defense official says some of the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq are the result of attacks which he says are being carried out by "contract killers."
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz now admits the biggest pre-war mistake of U.S. military planners was underestimating the post-war resistance shown by supporters of Saddam Hussein's ousted regime.
But Mr. Wolfowitz, just back from a five day fact-finding trip to Iraq, says there is a difference to the guerrilla-style attacks being launched against American troops.
"I believe this will go down as the first guerrilla tactic [war] in history in which contract killings, killings for hire, going out and soliciting young men for $500 to take a shot at an American, was the principal tactic employed," he said.
Since the end of major combat operations [May 1], more than three dozen U.S. soldiers have died as the result of hostile action in Iraq.
Mr. Wolfowitz claims mid-to-upper level leaders of the former Baathist regime are seeking out what he calls "facilitators" who then find young men willing to attack American troops for money.
"It's clear they're happy to send young men out to die, and the young men, apparently at the moment, will do a lot for a little bit of money," he said. "But I think the key to that is cleaning up the middle and upper levels."
Pressed by reporters, the deputy defense secretary declines to give additional details. But he says ample evidence has been obtained by the military, some of it from Iraqis.
"I think the evidence for that comes from a lot of sources; it comes from Iraqis telling them that," he said. "I didn't only hear it from the military, by the way, I heard it from Iraqis that we talked to. I'm sure it comes from individuals that they capture."
During a briefing for Pentagon reporters, Mr. Wolfowitz said that what he termed a "pervasive fear of the old regime" still exists among Iraqis.
But he says events like this week's killings of the fugitive sons of Saddam Hussein by U.S. troops will help enormously in lifting what he calls "the blanket of fear."