Insurgency Tactics Evolve in Iraq

In just two days this week, insurgent attacks killed at least 183 people in Iraq. Elements of those attacks suggest tactical changes in the insurgency. Steve Inskeep talks with Jeffrey White, a former chief of Middle East intelligence for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

At the end of a deadly week in Iraq, here's a look at shifting tactics in the war. The US, its Iraqi allies and insurgents are adapting to each other and in just two days this week, insurgent attacks killed at least 183 people.

We discussed those attacks with a former chief of Middle East intelligence for the US military. Jeffrey White points to a bombing in a city with strong insurgent support. That attack killed at least 58 people.

Mr. JEFFREY WHITE (Washington Institute for Near East Policy): Just yesterday we saw a major bombing incident in Ramadi itself. It was an attack on a number of police recruits. These kinds of things suggest that, you know, there may be some strains within the insurgency, within the diverse elements of...

INSKEEP: Why does an attack on police recruits indicate strain to you?

Mr. WHITE: Because the--overwhelmingly, the people that were standing in that line and the report was that there were as many as a thousand people--men--overwhelmingly, they were Sunni Arabs. And those people will be connected definitely to the tribal system, to the social structure in the Ramadi area and in Anbar province. And that scenario is a traditional recruiting ground for the insurgency and an area of traditional activity.

INSKEEP: So when you have a line of Sunni recruits who get blown up by insurgents who we assume are Sunnis, what you have is insurgents saying to their fellow Sunnis, `Don't be joining up with the new Iraqi government.'

Mr. WHITE: That's correct. But we've seen other indications of disagreements over how to approach the election, with nationalist insurgents, let's say, saying `We're going to support the election process. We're going to even provide security for the elections.' And other elements, specifically the terrorist elements, saying, `We're going to attack the election process. We're going to try and disrupt it.'

INSKEEP: Not too long ago, we spoke to an American officer who was in charge of training Americans to deal with improvised explosive devises, IEDs, which have been very deadly for American troops and for Iraqis.

Mr. WHITE: Right.

INSKEEP: And he said that the overall number of Americans killed by IEDs is going up despite American efforts to stop them because the number of attacks had doubled or perhaps even tripled over the course of a year.

Mr. WHITE: The number of IED incidents definitely did increase, but involved in all that, also, was the insurgents went to a more potent design and larger bombs to counter our armoring of our Humvees and other soft vehicles, and it's been the number-one killer and wounder of American troops.

INSKEEP: Can we talk about one tiny aspect of setting up a bomb like that?

Mr. WHITE: Sure.

INSKEEP: The evolution of this little technique might suggest larger changes in the insurgency. What are the different ways over time that insurgents have detonated IEDs?

Mr. WHITE: Well, they began with fairly simple devices, packages of--or hand grenades taped together. They would use direct triggers, wires, leading from a bomb planted next to the road, maybe a not-very-well-disguised person detonating the bomb would be located fairly nearby. But as we became more adapt at recognizing these kinds of techniques, the insurgents began to use more remote kinds of detonation using various electrical devices, cell phones, garage door openers. They're now using infrared triggers.

INSKEEP: Infrared triggers. What are those?

Mr. WHITE: That's where a vehicle drives through an infrared beam and sets off the bomb. There's no signal to detect from them other than a line of sight of a direct infrared beam. And they are proving difficult to counter.

INSKEEP: What are the lessons here?

Mr. WHITE: The main lesson, I think, is to know what you're getting into. We've had to learn a tremendous amount about the Sunni-Arab community, how it works, who's really important--all those kinds of things. And we've paid for that learning with blood.

INSKEEP: Jeffrey White is a former chief of Middle East intelligence for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

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