KUWAIT CITY (UPI) — The killing of Saddam Hussein’s two sons by U.S. forces in Mosul will go a long way toward undermining Iraq’s Iraqi Baathist resisters because it will chip away at their will to fight, a senior U.S. military official in Iraq told United Press International.

“This is a very beneficial hit,” the official said Wednesday. “They cannot feel anything other than doom, since if we can take down these guys, we can take down anybody.

“It’s a just a matter of time and good police work before we kill or arrest them, too.”

Uday or Qusay Hussein, Saddam’s sons, were said to be ruthless and known to have personally carried out and ordered killings and mass executions of dissidents. But neither was believed to have been directing the attacks against U.S. forces since U.S. President George W. Bush declared the major combat operation over in May. Their elusiveness gave hope to those who wanted them restored to power. “War is primarily a matter of will,” the official said a few hours after the deaths were announced. “The psychological blow is right into the vitals of those who pine for the old days, of those who have not recognized that the war for them is lost and that the Iraqi people continue to … welcome us.”

War’s description as a matter of will is especially true in an insurgency, where sum totals of casualties matter less than public perception and popular support, and guerilla fighters rely either on the support or fear of local people.

“The momentum was only with the thugs in the public affairs arena, not the real arena for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people,” the official said. “Right now with our press announcing a resurgent Baath threat…(the enemy) could draw hope…that if they just kill a couple more Americans, if it just gets a little hotter … then the Americans will go away,” the official said.

The Americans won’t go away, the official insisted, adding the media focus on the daily attacks on U.S. forces created an impression that U.S troop morale was waning while Baathist fighters were getting more powerful and effective. Neither is true, he said, but it shows the gulf between what U.S. forces are experiencing and what the media is reporting.

The killing of the Hussein brothers after a four-hour firefight in the northern town of Mosul provided the U.S. military in Iraq, which had been facing almost daily casualties since the major combat operation ended, a much-need fillip though Saddam, the head of the Baath Party, is still believed to be alive.

“For our guys it’s a morale boost,” the official acknowledged, “but also a vindication that as we stay the course the doubters will eventually stop wringing their hands and harmony will be restored in Iraq, someday sooner than later.”

The Baathists haven’t been defeated yet, however. In the hours following the firefight that claimed not just Uday and Qusay but possibly Qusay’s 14-year-old son and a bodyguard, at least one soldier from the 101st Airborne Division was killed in Mosul and seven were injured by a roadside bomb. Another soldier from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was killed, and a soldier and a contractor wounded by a bomb west of Baghdad. Also Tuesday, a Red Cross convoy was attacked on the road between Baghdad and relatively peaceful Basrah.

We’re “not certain why our media seems to so quickly find depressing the enemy’s attacks,” the official told UPI.

The media coverage of the Iraq war is largely centered on Baghdad, home to the coalition provisional authority and a key leg of the “Sunni Triangle” the area where Saddam’s traditional support has been based. The almost daily attacks have claimed most headlines, for journalistic reasons that are not immediately comprehensible to military commanders.

Death, as drama and as breaking news, and as a possible indication of what is to come, draws media attention. But the military is also undermined by the high expectations for an easy victory set by the Bush administration prior to the war. Vice President Dick Cheney declared just a short time before the first shots were fired that Americans would be greeted as liberators, that they would be cheered in the streets.

That was indeed the aftermath of the 2001 war in Afghanistan, where the population of Kabul was joyful to be freed from the daily repression of the Taliban. And in some places in Iraq, the same thing happened.

But for the past month, even in the south, where Saddam’s forces led by Qusay killed more than 100,000 Shiites during an ill-fated 1991 uprising, there have been large anti-U.S. demonstrations and rising tensions.

The U.S. military has a very different perspective on the progress of its campaign. Having finally acknowledged the attacks as a guerilla war, the counterinsurgency campaign, at least outside Baghdad, is going by the book – “Field Manual 90-8 on Counterguerilla Operations.”

This doctrine prescribes a holistic approach to fighting an elusive enemy, putting at least as much emphasis on undermining the sources of support for guerillas as it does on attacking them directly. As such, the military is funding and arranging water-improvement projects, rebuilding schools and allowing peaceful demonstrations. Marines take off their helmets and body armor when meeting with locals. They are learning their way through the hierarchies of the tribal and religious systems, and playing soccer with children to gain their affection and trust — and that of their parents.

As they do so, they are getting with increasing frequency tips on the location of arms caches and Baathist fighters. The whereabouts of Saddam’s sons was also believed to have been passed on by Iraqis. At the same time, the military is going on the offensive, deploying small teams of snipers to wait for hours for an ambush opportunity — using silencers on their guns — and setting up fake cargo convoys to lure attacks on themselves and then responding with overwhelming firepower from soldiers and Marines hidden inside.

U.S. Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid also unveiled plans to create a new militia of some 7,500 Iraqis to patrol along with the U.S. military, honoring another pillar of counterguerilla doctrine — to have indigenous forces sharing the burden. The militia would be in addition to police forces and the conventional military now being recruited.

It is a slow process, military officials acknowledge, but the only way they know to beat this enemy.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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