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Iraq Transition

Official: 13,000-17,000 insurgents in Iraq

Baghdad blast kills more than 20 police applicants

From Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau

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Insurgent estimates
Total: 13,000 to 17,000
Baathists: 12,000 to 15,000 (5,000 "committed")
Non-Iraqi nationals: 500
Zarqawi backers: 1,000

Source: Senior U.S. military official
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. military faces between 13,000 and 17,000 insurgents in Iraq, the large majority of them backers of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party, a senior military official said Tuesday.

Those figures came to light the same day an apparent suicide bombing killed more than 20 people in central Baghdad as they waited in line to apply to be police officers, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

On Wednesday police said a senior official with the Iraq's Interior Ministry had been kidnapped, an Iraqi police official said.

Col. Riyadh Gatte Elawi was abducted as he left his house for work at around 7:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m. ET Tuesday) in the al-Dora neighborhood of Baghdad, police said.

The senior military official told CNN the bulk of the insurgency is made up of 12,000 to 15,000 Arab Sunni followers of Saddam's party. The Baath Party was overthrown by a U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

Of those, the source said 5,000 to 7,000 are considered "committed" fighters, with the rest considered "fence-sitters," criminals or "facilitators" who contribute material support or sanctuary to the guerrillas.

The official, who is familiar with the region, said about 500 other fighters have come from other countries to battle the U.S.-led forces in Iraq, while another group of fewer than 1,000 are believed to be followers of Jordanian-born Islamic terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Members of Congress have been pressing senior officers for an assessment of the strength of the insurgency since Iraq's January 30 elections.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week, Sen. John McCain criticized Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for lacking a readily available estimate of the armed opposition.

"I don't know how you defeat an insurgency unless you have some handle on the number of people that you are facing," the Arizona Republican said.

Told by Myers that some numbers exist but are classified, McCain said, "I think the American people should know the extent of the enemy we are facing."

The numbers are considerably higher than the 5,000 fighters that Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, estimated in November 2003. The Pentagon cautioned, however, that trends are difficult to track.

The official who provided Tuesday's estimate said the U.S. military believes it killed between 10,000 and 15,000 guerillas in combat last year -- perhaps as many as 3,000 during the November push to retake the western Iraqi city of Falluja from insurgents.

But because others join the insurgency to replace those killed, Pentagon analysts have difficulty matching the current number against previous assessments.

In the wake of the elections, in which Iraqis turned out to vote for a transitional parliament, U.S. commanders expressed hope that Iraqis will rethink their commitment to the insurgency.

Bombings target police

In Tuesday morning's bombing, at least 22 people were killed and nearly 30 wounded, said Thair al-Nakib, a spokesman for interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

"To attack and brutally murder patriotic and innocent Iraqis on their way to volunteer to protect their homeland is a crime against all people of Iraq," al-Nakib said in a statement.

A representative with the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division said 27 people were wounded in the blast, which witnesses said took place at an Iraqi army post.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi politician survived an attempt on his life Tuesday, but his two sons and a bodyguard were killed, police said.

Unknown gunmen opened fire on Mithal al-Alousi's convoy in Baghdad, police said. Al-Alousi is the general secretary of the Iraqi Nation Democratic Party.

Tuesday's violence followed a pair of suicide bombings Monday against police that killed 27 Iraqis, officials said.

In Mosul, a suicide bomber outside Jumhuriya Hospital summoned policemen to him and detonated a bomb, killing 12 and wounding four, officials and witnesses said.

About a half-hour later near a Baquba police station, an explosives-laden taxi blew up, killing 15 people, police said.

Col. Dana Pittard, commander of the 3rd Brigade, U.S. 1st Infantry Division, said the dead were civilians looking for work as police officers or in other positions at the station.

The car bomb was within 50 feet (15 meters) of the police complex and was inside a security cordon at the time of the blast.

Other developments

  • The electoral list backed by the Iraq's top Shiite clerics is likely to claim the office of prime minister but "will work with" the country's Sunni and Kurdish minorities to fill other top posts, one of Iraq's deputy presidents, Ibrahim Jafari al-Eshaiker, said Tuesday. His Dawa movement is part of the United Iraqi Alliance, which early returns suggest is headed for a majority in the transitional National Assembly.
  • Iraq will resume exporting oil from northern oil fields, a spokesman with the Northern Oil Co. said Tuesday. The office of the general manager said exportation would be 250,000 barrels per day. Oil exportation through northern pipelines to Turkey was suspended after sabotage attacks.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Paris on Tuesday, attempted to mend the rift between France and the United States over the Iraq war, saying it is "time to turn away from the disagreements of the past." (Full story)

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