4 November 2003

No answers as the body bags mount up

But for months the attacks in Iraq have been co-ordinated and politically targeted.

The strikes at the Red Cross, police stations and the hotel housing Mr Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, assassinations of a Spanish intelligence officer and a deputy mayor, and roadside bombs against US patrols all indicate a military strategy.

Yet this week, President George Bush, Mr Rumsfeld, Mr Wolfowitz and the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, could offer no coherent description of the insurgency or its leadership.

And all went out of their way to deny reports that Saddam Hussein and some of his commanders have been co-ordinating the attacks for months in what is becoming an ugly guerilla war.

Mr Rumsfeld rejected a suggestion that Saddam and his inner circle had abandoned the fight for Baghdad in April in the face of US military superiority with the deliberate aim of launching a protracted guerilla war.

'The idea that his plan was to do that I think is far-fetched,' he told NBC's Meet the Press. But he added: 'What role he is playing today I don't know, we don't know . . . Is he interested in re-taking his country? Sure.'

After months of relentless attacks, a huge US-led counter-insurgency operation and hundreds of arrests, how is it possible that US officials know so little about their opponents?

There are two possible answers. The first is that the US forces in Iraq do know more but do not want to admit that Saddam and the Baathists are playing a leading role. This could terrify the Iraqis who are co-operating with them.

The second answer is that US intelligence on the ground in Iraq is just as woeful as it was before the war.

Intelligence is supposed to be predictive. Why then are so many coalition predictions so far from the reality? And when will they improve at all?

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