UNITED NATIONS – Terrorism has replaced hit-and-run attacks on American soldiers as the biggest threat to U.S.-led efforts to stabilize Iraq, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq says.
Gen. John Abizaid (search), chief of U.S. Central Command, told a Pentagon news conference Thursday that elements of the terrorist organization Ansar al-Islam (search) have migrated south into the Baghdad area and that foreign extremists are infiltrating Iraq from Syria to further destabilize it.
Abizaid said terrorists are now firmly established in the Iraqi capital and pose a growing danger.
"Clearly, it is emerging as the number one security threat," he said. "And we are applying a lot of time, energy and resources to identify it, understand it and deal with it."
Abizaid also said he believes that increasing the size of the U.S. military force in Iraq is not the answer to defeating either the terrorists or the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime. The best approach is getting Iraqis more involved in providing security, he said.
The U.S. death toll in Iraq continued to climb. The Army said one 1st Armored Division soldier was killed and two were wounded by an improvised explosive in Baghdad shortly before midnight Wednesday. No identities or other details were provided.
As of Wednesday, the Pentagon counted 271 U.S. dead since the war began, including 133 since May 1, when President Bush declared that major combat operations had ended.
U.S. officials announced the capture of Ali Hassan al-Majid (search), who earned the nickname "Chemical Ali" for ordering poisonous gas attacks against Iraqi Kurds in 1988. He was No. 5 on the U.S. list of most-wanted Iraqis, although it was unclear what role he may have been playing in postwar Iraq.
Abizaid said al-Majid had been "influencing people in and around him," but he declined to elaborate.
Thus far 42 of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis have been captured or killed, by the Pentagon's count.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who appeared with Abizaid, characterized the bombing Tuesday of the U.N.'s Iraqi headquarters in Baghdad, which killed at least 23 people and wounded more than 100, as a terrorist act.
"Terrorist activity has been going on in our world for a long time," Rumsfeld said. "It is going on today. There is hardly a month that goes by where there's not some relatively significant terrorist act that occurs somewhere."
Asked whether he saw links or signs of cooperation between remnants of Saddam's former Baath Party (search) and terrorist groups entering Iraq, Abizaid said they are organized in similar ways but are not allies.
"I believe that there are some indications of cooperation in specific areas," he added. "Of course, ideologically they are not at all compatible. But on the other hand, you sometimes cooperate against what you consider a common enemy."
Abizaid said the terrorist threat is being fueled by extremists operating in a triangular stretch of territory between the cities of Baghdad, Ramadi and Tikrit, which is Saddam's tribal home.
"They are clearly a problem for us because of the sophistication of their attacks and because of what I would call their tactics to go after Iraqis," he said. "Clearly, they're going after Iraqis that are cooperating with us. They're going after soft targets of the international community. They're still seeking to inflict casualties upon the United States."
He said the terrorists are taking advantage of Iraq's poorly guarded borders.
"The lines of infiltration are difficult to stop because of the wide expanse of the border, but we're working very hard at getting the handle on what we need to do to stop infiltration there, in conjunction with Iraqis," he said.