CAIRO, Egypt – Between 20,000 and 30,000 terrorists are operating throughout Iraq (search), led by Syria-based former regime leaders, Iraq's intelligence chief told Wednesday's edition of a pan-Arab newspaper.
Maj. Gen. Mohammed Abdullah al-Shahwani told Asharq Al-Awsat that he expected the armed attacks would decrease and end within a year.
"We officially call them terrorists," he said. "They are between 20,000 and 30,000 armed men operating all over Iraq, mainly in the Sunni areas where they receive moral support from about 200,000 people."
Al-Shahwani said the men, who are well-organized and trained, include former Baath party members, some Islamic militant groups and former army members who lost their jobs.
Al-Shahwani said terrorist attacks would negatively affect the Jan. 30 election because some people would not be able to reach polling stations.
"Whether these attacks would increase or decrease, this depends on the elections result, but our expectation, as a security organ, is that the attacks will recede and end in one year," he said.
He did not elaborate.
He said the insurgents get good financial support from former leading Baathist Mohammed Younis al-Ahmed and Sabaawi al-Hassan, a half brother of Saddam Hussein, who he said are in Syria and are easily moving in and out of Iraq. Saddam's former deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri is also working with insurgents, he said.
Syria has denied Iraqi accusations that the terrorists get support from Damascus and that they move freely across the border. Iraq also accused Iran of allowing the insurgents to cross into Iraq.
Al-Shahwani said he had not seen any changes in Syrian and Iranian policies following the Iraqi accusations.
"The problems are still coming from these two countries because the borders are open and the support is going on to serve their interests," he said.
The Iraqi intelligence chief said insurgent activities in Fallujah have receded since a U.S. and Iraqi military campaign last month but that leading members fled to different areas.
He named "hot areas" where insurgents were active, including the so-called "Sunni Triangle," eastern Diyala province and areas north of Hillah, about 95 kilometers (60 miles) south of Baghdad. He said armed groups were seen stopping and searching people in the streets of the northern city of Mosul. Inside Baghdad, he named the dangerous regions as Haifa Street and the districts of Azamiyah, Doura and Ghazaliyah, as well as the road leading to the airport.
Al-Shahwani was pensioned by Saddam in 1984 and defected from Iraq in 1990. He formed an opposition military group backed by the U.S. administration. Saddam executed several members of his group, including al-Shahwani's three sons.