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The Boston Herald December 16, 2003

Wildcard fugitives pose danger to rebuilding Iraq

By Thomas Caywood

The ace of spades is out of play now, but more than a dozen top officials of Saddam Hussein's deposed regime continue to be wild cards in the bloody insurgency targeting U.S. troops occupying Iraq.

With the former Iraqi strongman in custody, the highest ranking member of his inner-circle still on the lam is Izzat Ibrahim al Douri, a longtime Hussein deputy thought to be directing and financing attacks against U.S. soldiers.

"He is THE guy now. It's believed he's been the one in control of most of the insurgency, or at least coordinating a large part of it," said Patrick Garrett, a defense analyst with Global Security of Alexandria, Va. "He is the individual that they really need to get their hands on next."

The U.S. military last month put a $ 10 million bounty on the head of the 61-year-old Iraqi general, who is depicted as the king of clubs in the Pentagon's Iraqi most-wanted deck of cards.

Of the original 55 regime officials on the cards, all but 13 have been captured or killed, according to U.S. commanders.

Rafi Abd al-Latif Tilfah, Hussein's nephew and director of his once-dreaded secret police, depicted as the jack of hearts, is next after al Douri on the list.

"They are clearly players" in the continued attacks, said Peter Singer, a former Defense Department official and national security expert with the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, D.C.

Even so, Singer said, it'll take more than rounding up the remaining Iraqi fugitives to defeat the resistance.

Most analysts attribute guerrilla attacks against U.S. forces and Iraqi police to three separate groups: those loyal to the former regime, foreign fighters waging a jihad against America, and Iraqi nationalists and religious radicals opposed to the old regime and the American occupation.

As far as the first group goes, Singer said its attacks appear to be directed mainly by mid-tier loyalists, not Hussein's former inner-circle.

"At least in the short term, I don't think the Iraqi insurgents are going to give up the ghost and fade away," said Garrett.

Singer said he believes the most pressing threat is posed, not by Baathist hold-outs loyal to Hussein, but by the Iraqi nationalists and religious extremists looking to take power after years under Saddam's boot.

The best place to defeat them, Singer said, may be in the political arena, not on the battlefield.

"It's about getting an Iraqi government stood up," he said.

Copyright 2003, Boston Herald Inc.