BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Iraqi insurgency in Baghdad (search) appears to have a central leadership that finances attacks in the capital and gives broad orders to eight to 12 rebel bands -- some with as many as 100 guerrillas, U.S. Army generals said.
Decisions on individual attacks against U.S. occupation forces in the capital, however, are left up to the men who carry them out, Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey said Monday.
There is still no sign of a military-style command structure in the city or in Iraq as a whole, Dempsey told a group of reporters in an unusually detailed account of the Iraqi insurgency.
"I'm increasingly of the belief that there's central financial control and central communications," said Dempsey, who commands the Army's 1st Armored Division (search), which controls Baghdad and the surrounding region.
The division's picture of the insurgency has grown clearer as its intelligence gathering has improved, he said. Last month, the Army rounded up what Dempsey believes is one of the guerrilla cells blamed for attacks in Baghdad, including the Oct. 26 rocket strike on the Al-Rasheed Hotel that occurred during the stay of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (search).
Although Dempsey spoke about the Baghdad operation, an ambush Sunday in the town of Samarra north of the capital also showed heightened coordination. U.S. forces successfully routed a group of about 50 fighters who laid in wait at banks and ambushed two American convoys carrying Iraqi currency, killing dozens of Iraqis.
In Baghdad, rebel attacks have come in waves that Dempsey said appear to start when an order is given. The Iraqi capital has been quiet in recent weeks, after a series of attacks in early November. Dempsey said he believes the lull stems from a leader's ordering guerrillas to lie low during the Army's current offensive, "Operation Iron Hammer."
A yet-unidentified central leadership appears to give guerrilla cells broad orders such as, "Go attack the coalition," Dempsey said.
He said he believes the manner of attack is left up to the individual cells, as long as the efforts disrupt and discredit the U.S.-led coalition and any progress it has made.
"There's clearly some central communications," he said.
The insurgency's members and leaders remain unclear -- even to U.S. intelligence and military officials. American officials have said anti-coalition guerrillas showed evidence of regional control, but little has been made public about those networks, or to indicate individual bands were linked in the way Dempsey described.
A look at the rebel movement north of Baghdad appears in a November report from Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Some 70 percent to 80 percent of insurgents captured by the 4th Infantry Division are paid attackers, mostly criminal elements, Cordesman said he learned in an interview with the 4th ID's leadership.
The 1st Armored Division has been tracking Baghdad insurgents using a computer database that catalogs information on rebels and diagrams links among insurgents, Dempsey said. The database has proven useful in identifying insurgent groups forming in the city's 88 neighborhoods.
Later this week, the division will embark on an anti-smuggling and corruption drive aimed at breaking financial links to the capital's insurgent groups. The operation, dubbed "Operation Iron Justice," aims at smugglers of gasoline, cooking fuel and other items, Dempsey said.
"Our human intelligence suggests a link between price gouging and the financing of these networks," he said. "I can't say for sure it exists. But I have enough to know it's worth addressing."
Rebel bands operating in Baghdad include large cells of 80 to 100 members, and smaller groups of 10 to 20 fighters, said Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, also of the 1st Armored Division, who spoke to reporters along with Dempsey.
One of those cells -- believed responsible for the Al-Rasheed Hotel attack -- has been broken up, with 28 members captured in raids Nov. 6.
FBI agents helped track the group by examining welding techniques used to build the makeshift rocket launcher and the blue paint used to camouflage it, Dempsey said. The FBI found the paint was the same as that used on the front gate of a man in custody, Hertling said.
The 1st Armored's Second Brigade Combat Team raided a dozen or so villas and seized the suspects, along with rockets and other munitions, computers, cash and a rocket manual. Other suspects in the hotel attack have been rounded up in other raids.
Since those raids, the northwest suburb where the group operated, Abu Ghraib, has been quiet, Hertling said, and anti-American sermons in local mosques have been toned down.
Another organization calling itself Mohammed's Army, or Jaish Mohammed, appears to be an umbrella group for former intelligence agents, army and security officials, and Baath Party members, Dempsey said.
Membership in Baghdad's insurgent groups appears to be fueled by Sunni Muslims who had been favored under Saddam Hussein's regime and who have lost privileges since his ouster. Sunnis worry their lives will worsen if the Shiite Muslim majority gains power in elections, Dempsey said.
"They've lost a lot and they want to regain power," Hertling said.
The cells are made up of local residents, but foreigners may be used at times, perhaps in suicide bombings, Hertling said.
"We believe there's potential for a marriage of convenience," he said. "When former regime loyalists want to do a specific attack, they will recruit foreign fighters to do that attack."
Baghdad's guerrilla strongholds include Azamiyah, a Baath Party residential zone where Saddam was last seen in public; the southern neighborhoods favored by Sunni fundamentalists; and Abu Ghraib, where the destruction of major businesses left men jobless and angry, Hertling said.
"They're disenfranchised," he said. "You've got people taking advantage of that."