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Time reporter: Iraqi resistance getting smarter

Brian Bennett
Brian Bennett

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CNN's Bill Hemmer talks with Time magazine reporter Brian Bennett, who is in Baghdad.
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Brian Bennett
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Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Facing intensified attacks by Iraqi insurgents, U.S. forces stepped up offensive measures in the last week, unleashing Operation Ivy Cyclone and Operation Iron Hammer. A military source said the offensive is designed "to let the Iraqis know that the attacks on the coalition will not be tolerated."

CNN anchor Bill Hemmer spoke Monday with Time magazine's Brian Bennett, who wrote an article about the Iraqi resistance.

BENNETT: [CentCom commander] Gen. [John] Abizaid said there could be as many as 5,000 insurgents. He was actually criticized for passively underestimating the number. According to my sources, I think the number could be less than that. People told me if you have a well- organized, well-led resistance force of maybe several hundred or a thousand, they could be inflicting the amount of damage and instigating the amount of chaos we've seen in the last couple of weeks.

HEMMER: Your article also says the insurgents are getting smarter by the day, maybe by the week. How do you know this?

BENNETT: One source, who used to work for the former regime and is now in contact with some of the resistance cell leaders in different parts of the country, has said that some of the cell leaders who used to operate independently have now started to come together on a weekly basis. The leaders of these cells are coming together and trading information about the location of U.S. bases, of possible targets, and trading information about tactics that have been effective against the American soldiers in the past.

HEMMER: There was a report out last week that says this may have been planned prior to the war. Do you have any evidence that backs that up?

BENNETT: As far as I can tell, talking to sources who are close to the resistance, and also talking to some American intelligence sources, it doesn't seem like there's an indication that this resistance was planned from the very beginning.

The evidence that they give is that during the first few months the Americans didn't see that much organized resistance and that it took some time, maybe a full five months for the former regime members to come together with other people who wanted to oppose the occupation, to organize them, to train them and to identify the proper targets and the proper tactics to attack the Americans.

So it doesn't seem to some people and people who are close to the resistance that they're following an organized plan that was laid out in advance, but that it was a more organic effort that's evolved over the last couple of months.

HEMMER: What are you finding out from the Iraqi side as to how much influence Saddam Hussein has today? There was a tape over the weekend. What can you say for certain?

BENNETT: One source close to the resistance told me that he knows for a fact that Saddam Hussein has been passing messages through an intermediary to a few resistance leaders. That's not to say Saddam Hussein is orchestrating the resistance attacks on a national level or that he's sitting in a hideout in a sand box deciding where the next attack is going to be, just that he has been passing messages to a few leaders involved in the attacks on the Americans.

As far as Saddam's announcement that came out this week, one interesting thing that he said that could pose major problems for the American presence here is that he said, let's try to focus on not just killing the Americans, but killing those Iraqis who are cooperating with the Americans. And since it's much easier to target those Iraqis, this could cause a lot of upheaval and chaos.

HEMMER: Finally, Brian, the amount of money that some of these insurgents might be being paid, you say about $1,000 for an attack on U.S. troops. How do you know the money's being paid out? How do you know that this is what's being offered?

BENNETT: This comes from both an American colonel operating in Baghdad and also from Gen. Abizaid's speech this last weekend. They know that from talking to captured resistance members who have told them. These American officials say that the motivation for a lot of these men who are planting improvised explosive devices on the side of the road is simply money. They're unemployed and out of work and looking for a way to make a little cash.


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