SAMARA, Iraq – A former Iraqi general who claims to be part of the insurgency against U.S. troops says the guerrilla war around this "Sunni Triangle" city is being waged by small groups fighting on their own without direction from Saddam Hussein or others.
He and two other Samara (search) men, who said they are in separate guerrilla units, insisted in interviews with The Associated Press that their fight isn't aimed at returning Saddam to power. They said it's about ending the U.S.-led occupation and restoring Iraqi rule.
"I am fighting for my country — not Saddam Hussein — to get rid of the infidels. Very few people are fighting for him. They gave up on him at the end of the war," said one of the men, an unemployed electrical engineer.
Despite the Bush administration's statement that it wants to turn over sovereignty by next June and eventually withdraw its troops, the men said they believe the Americans are here to pillage Iraq and steal its oil.
All three said their guerrilla groups are fighting without instructions from Saddam or any other contact with Iraq's former leader. They also said there is no shortage of potential fighters among Iraqi males, most of whom have at least rudimentary military training from compulsory army service during Saddam's rule.
The men, who described themselves as loyalists of the ousted Baath (search) ruling party, were interviewed separately last week. They agreed to discuss the fighting around Samara only if they were not identified, to avoid making them targets of U.S. troops.
Their claims to be active in guerrilla operations could not be independently confirmed, but there was some indirect evidence that supported their accounts.
Without providing details on a site or timing, the engineer said a bomb had been planted on a nearby railway in preparation for attacking a train; three days later, on Saturday, an explosion derailed a train causing damage but no injuries.
The men also gave details of other planned attacks, but AP was unable to confirm whether they occurred. Lt. Col. Ryan Gonsalves, the senior U.S. officer in Samara, declined to comment on that question Wednesday, saying he did not necessarily know about every attack in the area.
The former general, whose 30 years of military service under Saddam is well known in this city of 250,000 people, said he is mostly involved in planning attacks and giving advice on weapons. The other men — the engineer and a wholesaler — said they participate in attacks.
The general described the guerrillas as long on enthusiasm and commitment but short on training and organization, and he said they do not coordinate their activities. Nevertheless, they can cause trouble for U.S. troops, he argued, because the Americans go about in small units that are easier to attack.
Still, most of the almost daily attacks on 4th Infantry Division (search) troops in the Samara area cause little damage, although the toll has increased recently. In the first casualties here in months, two U.S. soldiers died and four were wounded in an attack Oct. 24, and two more were killed and three wounded by a roadside bomb Nov. 13.
The division's 1st Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment occupied three bases in Samara until Saturday, when without notice the troops moved to a new post six miles north of the city. Primary responsibility for Samara was shifted to Iraqi police, but U.S. troops still patrol.
At least nine civilians have been killed and 31 wounded since Oct. 27 as a result of guerrilla fire or U.S. counterstrikes, doctors at Samara General Hospital (search) say. Insurgents often attack from residential areas, witnesses say.
"Our tactic is mostly made up of 'attack and run,'" said the 50-year-old general, wearing the traditional long Arab robe and sitting cross-legged on the floor of his home.
The interview was not arranged in advance. A relative of the general took an AP reporter to the general's house without invitation in hopes of plumbing his military expertise for an overview of the guerrilla movement in Samara.
To the surprise of the general's family sitting around him, he began giving details of his own involvement in the insurgency.
He said there is no central organization to the resistance in Samara, but added that attacks by small, independent groups need only "simple planning."
American officers also say guerrilla activities in Iraq are not coordinated by a central command. Last week, Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, estimated there are no more than 5,000 insurgents across the country and said the most dangerous are the Baathist loyalists, who are concentrated in the Sunni Triangle that was Saddam's center of support.
The engineer said he specializes in setting off roadside bombs. But he said he also has fired mortars at U.S. bases and shot at soldiers.
"We work along with about 20 other men," he said.
Meeting with a reporter at the house of an acquaintance, he said he had only a half hour to speak because he was on his to way to ambush an American convoy on the Samara-Tikrit highway.
At an interview the next day, the engineer said he and eight other men in three cars used machine guns to shoot at the tires of a truck in a convoy carrying food for U.S. troops. He said the driver, a foreign civilian, unhooked the cab and drove off. The other trucks also got away, and nobody was hurt, he said.
The engineer said it takes U.S. helicopters at least 12 minutes to respond to an attack.
"We counted. By the time they get there we would be long gone," he said.
A father of four, he said weapons are readily available from Iraqis who looted arsenals in the chaos after Saddam's regime collapsed. He said his group has machine guns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, SPG-9 anti-tank missiles and Strela anti-aircraft missiles.
In an interview arranged by the engineer, the merchant said he mostly coordinates operations of his guerrilla group but has joined in several attacks, most recently on Nov. 9. In that attack, he said, a convoy of "CIA cars" was ambushed with machine gun fire.
"I do whatever I am capable of to fight the Americans," he said at his home where photos of Saddam were plastered on the walls. "I hit anything I can. We Iraqis know everything about weapons — mortars, guns, RPGs, you name it."
The businessman, who said he has 14 children, said his group has about 30 members.
The other two men declined to estimate the number of fighters in Samara. "All I can say is that the number of mujahedeen [holy warriors] is increasing and not decreasing," the general said.
Ignoring his wife's pleas to stop talking about his activities, the general said his group is in contact with guerrilla cells in Fallujah and other parts of the Sunni Triangle and sometimes receive arms from them. The engineer said his unit is not in touch with fighters outside Samara.
The general said the fighting won't stop until U.S. and other troops get out.
"We don't care who replaces them," he said. "The important thing is to throw out the occupation."