November 18, 2003
A U.S. General Speeds the Shift in an Iraqi City
AGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 17 — An American commander is preparing to pull troops back from Ramadi, a city at the center of guerrilla activity, and turn it over to Iraqi officers, an experiment that could change the course of the occupation of Iraq.
The commander, Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., of the 82nd Airborne Division, said in an interview last week that troops stationed in Ramadi might be ready to withdraw as early as January. About 18,000 Americans are stationed in Anbar Province, with several thousand of those in Ramadi, military officials said.
The plan, if it works, would represent a significant shift in American efforts to pacify areas dominated by Sunni Arabs, who benefited the most from the reign of Saddam Hussein. The plan seems to dovetail with Washington's recent push to accelerate the transfer of political responsibilities to the Iraqis.
General Swannack said his troops would "stand back" outside the town, ready to help the Iraqi police when needed, but otherwise leaving policing duties to them. To help prepare the Iraqis, he said, the G.I.'s have begun joint patrols with them.
Ramadi, the provincial capital, with about 250,000 residents, has been a center of armed resistance against the American occupation. About 80 miles west of Baghdad, it is in the heart of the area north and west of the capital known as the Sunni Triangle, which is generating most of the attacks against Americans.
"By January or February, we will start backing away and letting them do it," General Swannack said of the Iraqi police. "We will become the backup and the checkers if they aren't doing something right," he added in the interview, at his headquarters in Ramadi.
Many Iraqi leaders have been urging American commanders to take a lower profile, saying their presence alone is prompting resentment and violence against the Americans.
The question in Ramadi is how well the Iraqi security forces, assembled and trained by the Americans, sometimes with great haste, will perform on their own. Some security forces in Anbar are not fully equipped with guns and radios. Many of the province's 4,000 Iraqi police officers have not gone through the training courses taught by the Americans, officials said.
American and British commanders have executed similar pull-backs, but in cities dominated by Kurds, Shiite Muslims and Christians, groups that have been largely receptive to the occupation.
The plan outlined by General Swannack appears to be the broadest effort so far to pull American troops back from a city dominated by Sunni Arabs. A more limited transfer was tried in Falluja in July.
The 18,000 soldiers under General Swannack's command are spread across a wide desert expanse. Anbar Province, particularly the areas around Ramadi and Falluja, has been the center of resistance against the occupation since 15 Iraqis were killed by American soldiers during a riot in Falluja in April.
The violence has risen sharply. In September, American soldiers were attacked 340 times in Anbar; in October, there were 450 attacks.
But General Swannack said he had made steady progress in Ramadi, not just in training security forces but also in winning over allegiance from residents. Ramadi currently has about 1,600 Iraqi police officers.
"The perception that Iraqis are unwilling to take charge of their destiny is totally wrong," General Swannack said. "The Sunnis in this area want to take charge of their destiny. We just have to provide the tools."
In Ramadi on Monday, military officials announced what they described as a significant success by apprehending Kazim Muhammad Faris, whom American officials described as an organizer of anti-American attacks.
In separate attacks on Monday near Balad, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, an American soldier died and two others were wounded when guerrillas ambushed their patrol, and another soldier died when the convoy he was in hit a homemade bomb.
Four Iraqis and a suspected foreign fighter were killed in three incidents on Sunday night and Monday, American officers said.
Three Iraqis died in a firefight in Tikrit that the officers said began when an American patrol found a group of Iraqis who appeared to be planting a homemade bomb. The suspected foreign fighter was killed when he attacked an American soldier after he was captured Sunday night trying to cross from Syria, the officers said.
In the interview, General Swannack drew a distinction between Ramadi, where, he said, the residents were largely cooperative, and Falluja, where, he said, they are not.
General Swannack said Falluja was nowhere near ready to be handed over to the Iraqi police. In discussing the guerrillas in Falluja, he said: "They can make it easy on themselves and tell us who the bums are, and we'll go search them out, or they will be subjected to some pain.
"But we are not going to tolerate attacks on coalition forces and people jumping for joy in the streets."
French Urge Faster Transfer
PARIS, Nov. 17 — In a new sign of French resistance, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Monday that the American plan to speed the transfer of power in Iraq was too slow.
In an interview in the daily La Croix, Mr. Villepin proposed instead to supplement the present Iraqi Governing Council of 24 leaders with "additional forces" to form a representative assembly that could elect a cabinet of 15 ministers before the end of the year. "This provisional government would embody Iraqi sovereignty and would see itself progressively endowed with the reality of executive power," he said.
Mr. Villepin's remarks appeared at odds with the approval of the American plan by the German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer. Speaking with reporters on Monday after a meeting with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Mr. Fischer said the American timetable was "a very important step forward," news agencies reported.