BAGHDAD, Iraq - Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. commander in Iraq, said yesterday that he needed better intelligence on enemy guerrilla activity, not more troops, to bring security to the war-torn country.
Meanwhile, the British army reported that one of its soldiers was killed late Wednesday after an angry mob surrounded about 20 soldiers in the southern town of Ali al Sharqi and fired on them with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons.
Soldiers returned yesterday morning and arrested eight people believed to have been involved in the incident, said Lt. Cmdr. Richard Walters, a British spokesman.
The attack brought to 11 the number of British soldiers killed in Iraq since President Bush declared major combat over May 1. The incident occurred three days after three British soldiers were killed in the southern city of Basra and suggests that armed resistance against U.S. and other coalition forces, which has been confined largely to Baghdad and the so-called Sunni Triangle west and north of the capital, could be spreading to the south, which is predominantly Shiite Muslim.
So far, 281 American soldiers have died in Iraq, 143 of them since the conventional war ended. More than 1,088 American soldiers have been wounded in the war.
Sanchez said he would welcome more international participation in the U.S.-led force as a "worthwhile initiative" that would provide "a clear display of international support" for stability and reconstruction efforts in Iraq. But he cautioned that simply adding more troops might not be the answer.
"Given the missions and given the tasks, it is not a function of additional soldiers," Sanchez said at a news conference in the Iraqi capital. "Putting more soldiers on the ground is not going to solve the problem when I don't have the intelligence to act on it."
Instead, what the United States and its allies need, Sanchez said, is more cooperation from the Iraqi people.
"It's an issue of being able to work with the Iraqi people and get the Iraqi people to help us," he said. "This is a function of human intelligence."
Sanchez pointed to efforts to organize and train an Iraqi civil defense corps, which could begin assisting American troops on patrol as early as next month. Coalition authorities also are working to train, arm and deploy 60,000 police officers and 12,000 border guards.
Once these forces are in place, Sanchez said, they will "be able to establish the linkages to the Iraqi people that can give us the intelligence that we need."
"If I put more Americans on the ground, those Americans are going to be doing the same things that my 130,000 Americans are doing now," he said. "Or if we put coalition forces on the ground, it will be the same issue."
Sanchez dismissed published reports that coalition authorities were recruiting former members of Saddam Hussein's secret police and intelligence services for a new spy network to infiltrate guerrilla cells that are attacking U.S. troops.
"I can tell you unequivocally that I'm not involved in either," he said. "I am not recruiting an intelligence service, and I am not involved in rehiring any of the Iraqi intelligence service former personnel, and they will not be brought on to any future intelligence service that Iraq may consider in the future."
When asked whether another section of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, which governs Iraq under the auspices of the Pentagon, is involved in the effort, Sanchez said, "Not that I'm aware of."
"I don't know - there's been discussions about it, but I don't know that we're actually involved in active recruiting," he said.