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Attacks on US Troops in Iraq Becoming More Lethal, says US Commander - 2003-10-02

The commander of the 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq says the guerrilla-style attacks on his soldiers are becoming more lethal. Army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez spoke at a Baghdad news conference Thursday.

General Sanchez says Iraq remains a dangerous and unpredictable war zone five months after major combat operations ended.

He said anti-coalition fighters, including foreign militants, terrorists and Saddam Hussein loyalists, have been inflicting nearly 50 casualties a week on U.S. forces, including three to six U.S. soldiers killed in action on an average week.

General Sanchez says even bigger attacks can be expected.

"As long as we are here, the coalition and American forces specifically need to be prepared to take casualties," he said. "We are still fighting. There is still some intense fighting to be done, especially out in the west. We should not be surprised if one of these mornings we wake up and in fact there has been a major firefight with significant casualties or a significant terrorist attack that has killed significant numbers of people. I mean, this is still a war zone."

General Sanchez said he does not rule out the possibility that the still-elusive former president, Saddam Hussein, is behind some of the attacks.

"Could he be part of the attacks? He could. He may still have some kind of means of either financing or influencing or putting out some kind of guidance," said General Sanchez. "We do not discount that. But what is clear is he is never coming back and that he has got to continue to hide because we are looking for him every single day."

The commander says U.S. troops find new weapons dumps around Iraq every day, and that some of that ordnance may be used to attack his men.

"There is so much ammunition in this country that you can not guard it all," he said. "There are more than 650,000 tons of ammunition in this country. Could some of that ammunition possibly have been used against my forces? Of course it is possible."

The general said the anti-coalition fighters have developed what he called more lethal, tenacious and sophisticated tactics over the past few months. He said the groups are organized at the local level, but there is no evidence of a national command-and-control structure.