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Jul. 17, 2003. 06:23 AM
Iraq war special section  
Officers won over before war (Aug. 10)  
Special Operations Task Force 20 (Aug. 5)  
Hunting Saddam (Aug.2)  
Saddam's daughters speak out (Aug. 1)  
U.S. pays $30M reward for Hussein brothers (July 31)  
Bush: U.S. on track (July 31)  
Photos: Graphic images of Uday, Qusay  
Photo Gallery: After the fall  
Al Jazeera English site  
Iraq now guerrilla war, top U.S. general says
Morale among troops plummets
Missile misses plane in Baghdad


WASHINGTON - The top American commander became the first U.S. military official yesterday to say his troops are fighting a guerrilla war in Iraq and acknowledged that morale is plummeting among his soldiers.

"It's low-intensity conflict, in our doctrinal terms, but it's war, however you describe it," Gen. John Abizaid, the United States' new head of Central Command, said in his first Pentagon briefing.

Abizaid, who assumed the post only last week, showed a penchant for plain speaking, saying he understands Americans are facing increasingly sophisticated attacks by an increasingly well-organized adversary and they need to know when they are coming home.

Abizaid also said U.S. troops should be ready to spend a year on duty in the region, though military planners are working to bring home some units quickly.

Year-long deployments, a norm during the Vietnam War, have been rare in recent years.

"So we've done it before, and we can do it again," Abizaid said.

There are now 148,000 Americans and 13,000 coalition troops, mainly Britons and Poles, in Iraq.

Abizaid's characterization of the conflict as a guerrilla war contradicts his boss, U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who only last week went to great lengths to chastise journalists for using the term.

Just yesterday, in one of the boldest attacks since U.S. President George W. Bush declared the end of major combat, a surface-to-air missile was fired at a U.S. C-130 Hercules transport plane as it came in for a landing at Baghdad Airport. It did not hit its target and there were no injuries, but it was the largest-scale attack since April, U.S. officials said.

"Certainly we're fighting Baathist remnants throughout the country," Abizaid said. "I believe there's mid-level Baathist, Iraqi intelligence service people, Special Security Organization people, Special Republican Guard people that have organized at the regional level in cellular structure and are conducting what I would describe as a classical guerrilla-type campaign against us."

Abizaid also made it clear that — low morale notwithstanding — his soldiers do not have the right to take shots at Bush and top Pentagon officials as some did on a national newscast Tuesday evening.

ABC aired interviews with soldiers who criticized Bush, Rumsfeld and others for leaving them to languish in the searing Iraqi heat where they have been described as sitting in a shooting gallery.

The death of another American yesterday was the 148th casualty since the war began, matching the death toll of the first Persian Gulf War waged by the president's father, George H.W. Bush.

Since the sitting president declared major combat over on May 1, 33 Americans have been killed, eight of them in the two weeks since Bush challenged the enemy to "bring `em on."

The pro-American mayor of the western city of Hadithah was also shot and killed in a midday ambush by assailants firing automatic weapons yesterday.

On the ABC report, one member of the 2nd Battle Combat Team in Falluja, Iraq, talked about his "Most Wanted" list, a response to the deck of cards the U.S. administration had distributed in a bid to capture Saddam Hussein's loyalists. "The aces in my deck are (U.S. civilian administrator) Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and (deputy defence secretary) Paul Wolfowitz," the sergeant told a reporter.

Another member, Specialist Clinton Deitz, told the reporter he would ask Rumsfeld to resign if he appeared in Falluja while another, Pte. Eric Rattler, said he once wanted to help Iraqis but "now, I don't care any more."

On another network, CNN, military families spoke harshly of broken promises about the length of the deployment and a fiancιe of one soldier suggested there was talk of desertion because some soldiers would rather ruin their careers than lose their lives.

Against this backdrop, CIA chief George Tenet faced a closed-door grilling at a U.S. Senate committee yesterday where he was asked to explain how a false claim about Saddam's search for uranium in Africa made it into Bush's State of the Union address last January.

Abizaid said he understood the soldiers' frustration, but "none of us who wear this uniform are free to say anything disparaging about the secretary of defence or the president of the United States. We're not free to do that. It's our professional code."

With files from Associated Press

Additional articles by Tim Harper

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