President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said in a television interview that the Iraq mission has entered "a difficult period" and suggested that the unannounced return to Washington of U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer III was part of urgent efforts to adjust to the increasing challenges on the ground.
More than 30 U.S. soldiers have died in the past 10 days in rocket and bomb attacks against coalition targets, reflecting what their commander, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, said were new, more-sophisticated tactics by Saddam Hussein loyalists and foreign fighters operating in Iraq.
The latest violence came last night when insurgents fired mortars toward the U.S. headquarters compound, known as the "Green Zone." The Coalition Provisional Authority said there was no damage to coalition headquarters, located in the Republican Palace. After one explosion, white smoke could be seen rising from an area just north of the palace.
On top of the mounting violence, there have been growing concerns in Washington about the performance of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, a senior Bush administration official said, particularly the lack of progress toward a Dec. 15 deadline to set a timetable for writing a new constitution and holding democratic elections.
The Iraqis have yet to agree on how to choose delegates to draw up a constitution. Some coalition officials say they suspect the Iraqis are stalling in hopes that Bremer will quickly give them more power.
Some Iraqi council members are also pushing for an Iraqi-controlled paramilitary force to fight the insurgents, something Bremer opposes without coalition oversight and control.
"The long-term security of Iraq will be assured by the Iraqis themselves," Bush said. He said 118,000 Iraqis were serving as police officers and in other security positions, and 35,000 Iraqi troops would be in the field by the end of next year.
Coalition sources said Bremer is increasingly frustrated by some members of the Iraqi Governing Council.
On average, one U.S. soldier has been killed every 36 hours since Bush declared major combat operations in Iraq at an end May 1.
Sanchez said insurgents have changed tactics to inflict more casualties on American troops while reducing their own.
"I think we have got to be realistic," he said when asked whether the insurgency is worsening. "The enemy has evolved its tactics. They use mortars and rockets so as not to engage our forces."
However, Sanchez said U.S. forces intend to "get pretty tough" against the insurgency.
"The stark reality is that, militarily, they cannot defeat us, and they know it, and I remain supremely confident in this reality," he said.
"It is not Vietnam," Sanchez snapped when asked whether Iraq resembled the early days of that conflict. "And there is no way you can make the comparison."
Some military experts cautioned that use of overwhelming firepower against the resistance forces might prove deadly for civilians at a time when Washington is trying to gain favor among Iraqis.
In Samara, 60 miles north of Baghdad, some Iraqis complained that insurgents are launching attacks from residential areas and that the American response has killed and wounded innocent civilians.
"It's everyone's right to resist the occupation, but they shouldn't attack from residential areas, from between houses," said Qahtan Karam, a Kurd whose mother was killed and whose wife was seriously wounded in an exchange of fire Oct. 24 in Samara.
Sanchez said he believes that about 200 foreign fighters are active in Iraq, in many cases cooperating with local insurgents, and that the military at one time held about 20 suspects believed to be linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network.
"But as we have continued to refine and interrogate, we have not been able to establish definitively that they were al-Qaida members," he said. Foreign fighters, he said, were using two routes across the Syrian border and one from Iran.
Sanchez said intelligence obtained by his troops has improved recently, but he stressed that a network of human intelligence is needed to give U.S. forces access to guerrilla cells and their operational structures.
"If we could eliminate this fear and they know that that regime will not return, then I think we will get a lot of cooperation," Sanchez said.
The fear of reprisals by Hussein loyalists or Muslim militants and the stigma of being labeled collaborators are thought to keep Iraqis from cooperating with Americans.
Hours after Abizaid's warning, U.S. jets dropped three 500-pound bombs near the rebellious city of Fallujah after three U.S. paratroopers were wounded in an ambush. On Friday, bombs were dropped on the outskirts of Tikrit, Hussein's hometown, after a U.S. helicopter was apparently shot down, killing six soldiers.
Asked why the U.S. military is dropping bombs now, Sanchez said: "Because that is the combat power necessary to defeat the enemy and send a very clear signal that our intent is to defeat the former regime loyalists, the terrorists and those people that are attacking the coalition and the Iraqi people.
"The most important message," he continued, "is that we are going to get pretty tough. ... But we will do everything possible to minimize the impact on the people of the country."