With more terrorist bombings in Iraq, a top Pentagon official says a shadowy group of highly-trained, former Iraqi intelligence agents loyal to Saddam Hussein is playing a key role in the current insurgency, especially in bomb attacks.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says former members of a group called M-14, the special operations directorate of Saddam Hussein's intelligence service, are actively engaged in anti-coalition attacks in Iraq today.
Testifying before members of Congress, Mr. Wolfowitz cited a secret Defense Intelligence Agency report saying M-14 personnel specialized in kidnappings, hijackings, bombings and assassinations.
"These people are in the field today," he said. "As that [DIA] report says, former Iraqi intelligence service operatives from M-14 have been involved in planning and conducting numerous improvised explosive devices, vehicle-born improvised explosive devices and radio-controlled improvised explosive devices for anti-coalition attacks throughout Iraq."
A spokesman for the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant Commander Jim Brooks, expressed surprise when asked by VOA about Mr. Wolfowitz's public disclosure of what is a secret report.
But the spokesman confirmed the existence of the DIA document as well as the substance of what the deputy defense secretary told Congress about its findings.
The DIA spokesman said former members of M-14 are playing what he described as a "significant" role in the insurgency. He called them "probably the best-trained and most effective" members of the anti-coalition force in Iraq.
The spokesman would not say how many former members of M-14 are believed to be at large. But he said some have been caught and some of the group's documents have been seized, enabling U.S. officials to learn about their activities.
Mr. Wolfowitz came under criticism for the second straight day from Democrats in Congress over administration policy in Iraq.
The criticism included the rising financial cost of the U.S. occupation as well as the failure of Iraqi security forces to assume greater responsibilities, thus prompting a larger number of American troops to remain in Iraq.
One Congresswoman, Representative Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat, voiced concern U.S. soldiers may have to remain in Iraq for decades to provide security.
"My fear is we're going to be there for 50 years the way we are in Korea today because we didn't plan correctly for this," she said.
Mr. Wolfowitz acknowledged there have been delays and other difficulties in training, equipping and fielding Iraqi security forces. But he voiced hope that within six months, Iraqis will shoulder most of the security burden with U.S. and other coalition troops acting only as a back-up force.