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Iraqi tactics test coalition's readiness

Unconventional fighting poses problems

Coalition soldiers have had to keep a close watch on surrendering Iraqis.
Coalition soldiers have had to keep a close watch on surrendering Iraqis.

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(CNN) -- Unconventional tactics used by Iraqi fighters are posing problems for coalition forces as an unpredictable conflict unfolds in Iraq.

"The enemy we're fighting is different from the one we'd war-gamed against," the U.S. Army's senior ground commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, told New York Times and Washington Post reporters.

But Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, U.S. Central Command spokesman, said Friday that coalition troops have been tactically patient.

"We believe that we're still consistent with our plan and how we designed it," Brooks said. "There will always be things that occur on the battlefield that are not precisely as you calculated them in your design. The strength of the plan is the ability to adapt it to the realities of the circumstance while still remaining focused on what it is we seek to do."

Reports and ground action so far have forced coalition troops to deal with everything from surrenders-turned-ambushes to armed pick-up trucks. Many of the attacks have come from Iraqi "irregulars" paramilitary groups such as Fedayeen Saddam and Baath party militia.

Here are some of the tactics coalition troops have faced:

Fake surrenders

U.S. military commanders in the field have been warned to take extreme caution about approaching Iraqis who appear to be surrendering.

U.S. sources said that on March 23, a group of Fedayeen in southern Iraq pretended to surrender to a U.S. support personnel group only to shoot some of the soldiers and take others hostage.

Pentagon officials have decried the trickery as "serious violations of the laws of war."

"You have no idea about concealed weapons until you disarm a person," said retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd, a CNN military analyst. "And you have no idea what's in these people's minds. It could be that they're tricking you into thinking they're surrendering, then they'll shoot you in the head.

"You get a few surrenders, then it looks easy, and all of a sudden you get sloppy. You can't get sloppy," Shepperd said.

Civilian shams

Coalition officials allege Iraqi forces are using civilian clothing, buildings and vehicles to hide their operations and fool U.S. and British ground troops into dangerous situations.

A group of Iraqis taken prisoner were driving a pink pickup truck with a machine gun mounted on it.
A group of Iraqis taken prisoner were driving a pink pickup truck with a machine gun mounted on it.

In Umm Qasr, small bands of Iraqi resistance fighters in civilian dress integrated themselves into the population, a U.S. intelligence officer has said. U.S. Central Command spokesmen have reported similar situations in other parts of the country.

Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN that Iraqi forces also have stored weapons in schools and used civilians as human shields.

U.S. Marines seized a hospital in Nasiriya on March 25 and captured nearly 170 Iraqi soldiers who had been staging military operations from the facility, U.S. authorities said.

Before they moved in, Marines used loudspeakers to instruct any medical personnel or patients inside to evacuate, authorities said. No civilians were found inside.

On the roads, Iraqi soldiers have been captured in civilian pick-up trucks with machine guns mounted on the vehicles. U.S. officers have said Iraqis are also launching TOW wire-guided missiles from pick-ups.

Attacks on civilians

A classified CIA report widely distributed among Bush administration policy-makers and military leaders in February warned of Iraqi forces firing on their own civilians, according to U.S. officials.

The Fedayeen Saddam group  reports directly to the presidential palace.
The Fedayeen Saddam group reports directly to the presidential palace.

The report said the Baath militia and Fedayeen Saddam forces might kill the Iraqi civilians in order to tie down the coalition troops.

Other U.S. intelligence reports prior to the war also predicted, officials say, that Iraqi forces might fire on their own people in order to create scenes of civilian bloodshed suitable for propaganda use by the regime, which would blame the carnage on coalition forces.

A U.S. goal is to separate the paramilitary forces in the field from the civilian populations, according to Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "We'll look at working those Fedayeen and Republican Guard that may have come down in civilian uniforms to keep a gun in the back of other people," Myers has said.

Rear attacks

The February CIA report also warned of threats to rear coalition units, U.S. officials say. The report said these units could expect "hit and run" tactics from Baath militia and Fedayeen.

According to retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. David Grange, a CNN military analyst, a problem is that many of the support units in the rear areas are not trained for this type of fighting.

To help protect the support units, leaders will designate ground and air tactical units to watch key areas, Grange said. They will also have several protective reaction forces on standby throughout southern Iraq.

Sea mines

Although the Iraqi navy is almost nonexistent, Iraqi forces have laid sea mines in waterways near the Umm Qasr port. The mines have forced coalition forces to search the waters and slowed humanitarian aid.

U.S., Australian and British divers have been searching for two kinds of mines -- those that float and those that sit on the ocean floor.

Also aiding operations are dolphins. Their handlers say the dolphins have been trained using their natural sonar abilities to locate and mark submerged mines.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.


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