Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Over 200,000 insurgents: Resistance in Iraq now outnumbers U.S. forces

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraq's insurgency counts more than 200,000 active fighters and sympathisers, the country's national intelligence chief told AFP, in the bleakest assessment to date of the armed revolt waged by Sunni Muslims.

"I think the resistance is bigger than the US military in Iraq. I think the resistance is more than 200,000 people," Iraqi intelligence service director General Mohamed Abdullah Shahwani said in an interview ahead of the January 30 elections.

Shahwani said the number includes at least 40,000 hardcore fighters but rises to more than 200,000 members counting part-time fighters and volunteers who provide rebels everything from intelligence and logistics to shelter.

The numbers far exceed any figure presented by the US military in Iraq, which has struggled to get a handle on the size of the resistance since toppling Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003.

A senior US military officer declined to endorse or dismiss the spy chief's numbers.

"As for the size of the insurgency, we don't have good resolution on the size," the officer said on condition of anonymity.

Past US military assessments on the insurgency's size have been revised upwards from 5,000 to 20,000 full and part-time members, in the last half year, most recently in October.

Defense experts said it was impossible to divine the insurgency's total number, but called Shahwani's estimate a valid guess, with as much credence, if not more, than any US numbers.

One could argue that a sort of election has already taken place, and we lost.


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