Recent Iraqi attacks on U.S. troops have demonstrated a new sophistication and coordination that raise the specter of the U.S. occupation force becoming enmeshed in a full-blown guerrilla war, military experts said Sunday.
The new approaches employed in the Iraqi attacks last week are provoking concern among some that what once was seen as mopping up the dying remnants of a deposed government is instead becoming a widening battle against a growing and organized force that could keep tens of thousands of U.S. troops busy for months.
Pentagon officials insist that the U.S. military is not caught in an antiguerrilla campaign in Iraq, that the fighting is limited mainly to the Sunni heartland northwest of Baghdad, and that progress is being made elsewhere in the country.
"There's been an awful lot of work done," Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Fox News Sunday in an interview taped last week. "A lot of the country is relatively stable."
But a growing number of military specialists, and some lawmakers, are voicing concern about trends in Iraq.
"In Iraq," Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the intelligence committee, said on CNN's Late Edition Sunday, "we're now fighting an antiguerrilla effort."
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said: "Our troops are stretched very, very thin. We should ask other countries" to send troops.
"The increasing enemy activity in Iraq is very unsettling," said retired Marine Lt. Col. John Poole, a specialist in small-unit infantry tactics. "It could mean that the situation has started to escalate into a guerrilla war."
Retired Army Col. Richard Dunn, a former head of the Army's internal think tank, agreed, saying, "I'd like to be wrong on this, but we may be seeing a classic insurgency situation developing." At the same time, he said it is possible that "we may just be seeing a surge of activity that they're unable to sustain."
Last week, 45 armed men launched a concentrated assault against a U.S. convoy north of Baghdad. Attacks in the capital appear to be more effective.
In one incident, an Iraqi stood in a moving car and fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a U.S. Army Humvee. Snipers have been hitting troops in Baghdad. Over the weekend, one 1st Armored Division soldier guarding the National Museum was shot and killed, and another one died in a similar attack at Baghdad University.
With those deaths, the U.S. toll grew to 209, including 70 troops killed since President Bush declared major combat ended May 1.
In another worrisome development, Iraqis who are working with the U.S. occupation force are being targeted. Saturday, seven new police officers who were graduating from a training academy were killed by a bomb.
The increase in the use of mortars is especially troubling, military experts noted, because it indicates a previously unseen level of organization in the Iraqi resistance. Unlike more portable arms such as AK-47 rifles, mortars are heavy weapons that need to be stored, moved, fired, then broken down and quickly moved.
Poole worries that the aim of the Iraqi attacks is not to defeat the U.S. forces as much as it is to provoke them. He thinks the Iraqi intent is to wage a war of attrition, causing U.S. commanders "to use an increasingly heavy hand" and thus U.S. forces "will automatically alienate the local populace."